Mary Heilmann at the New Museum


Second-floor installation view of Mary Heilmann: To Be Someone at the New Museum. This and all installation shots courtesy of the museum


Mary Heilmann turns the idea of the “tortured artist” inside out. Her joyful paintings seem effortless and spontaneous. Her grids and stripes are unmeasured. She makes big, blowsy shapes with thinned paint and loose brushwork, with seemingly no attempt to do anything about the resulting drips except to let them have a life of their own. Sometimes she paints over vast tracts of the canvas; other times there’s a pentimento or perhaps an image intended to be visible beneath the surface. Lines meander geometrically over the surface, occasionally from canvas to canvas, as many works are composed of multiple units.

Above: Hokusai, 2004, oil on canvas, 75 x 120 inches

Below: Gordy's Cut, 2003, oil on canvas, 42 x 36 inches


Above: Surfing on Acid, 2005, oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches

Below: Lovejoy Jr., 2004, oil on canvas, 40 x 32 inches

The artist’s palette—huge swaths of hot pink, acidic chartreuse, cool turquoise—would be kitsch in the hands anyone one less adept. Here it’s witty and mood elevating. Heilmann maintains the chromatic intensity at a high pitch throughout the exhibition, even coordinating it with the chairs of her own design. You can sit in the chairs as you contemplate the paintings--kind of becoming one with the exhibition. I loved that! (Sit in the red chair, which you’ll see when you walk off the elevator, and you can watch a Powerpoint display of objects and scenes that have fed or influenced her imagery. Installation image is at top of post.)

A second-floor installation view: These Heilmann-designed chairs are coordinated with the paintings in this and the other galleries. The grid of the webbing echoes the exhibition's predominant motif. You can sit in them as you take in the work

And speaking of influences, I also like the way the installation places adjacent paintings with related visual themes, a glimpse perhaps of how one idea leads to another, or perhaps doubles back on itself.

Second-floor installation views, above and below

Heilmann’s work is geometric abstraction with its feet up. The formal elements are in place, but there is gestural movement in some paintings, organic forms in others. She has been painting and showing for 40 years, and during that time she has also made ceramics and furniture. The installation at The New Museum makes sense of it all.

Lobby Gallery: a wall of paintings including Lupe, 1987, oil on canvas, 54 x 54 inches; and Sea Wall, 1986, oil on canvas, 60 x 42 inches

Below: Chartreuse Table, 2008, with what I would assume is a collecion of the artist's ceramic work

This has been a fabulous and well-earned decade for Heilmann: solo shows in New York, Antwerp, London, Zurich and elsewhere; featured-artist status at Basel Miami via Hauser and Wirth; simultaneous covers on Art in America and Art Forum last year; this beautifully installed solo at the New Museum, which originated at the Orange Country Museum of Art, and a gorgeous accompanying catalog; a juicy feature in the New York Times. Could a MacArthur grant be next?

Mary Heilmann: To Be Someone is at the New Museum through January 26.


Mark Staff Brandl said...

I love Mary's work --- and her too! Great discriptions. I wish I could have made it to the opening. I'll still try to make the show. (I'm linking to this at Sharkforum).

S.A. said...


Another masterful post for a beautiful show --- Thanks!

Nancy Natale said...

Fabulous! Thanks. A definite MacArthur grant.

Anonymous said...

macarthur grant? uh, one of us is wrong here. maybe it's me, but really? a macarthur grant? for the paintings or the review? i'm assuming paintings. uh. no. ? is it me? maybe this joanne mattera is an angel but i don't see the genius. it's gotta be me.

Anonymous said...

sorry, wrong name. maybe this mary heilmann is a genius but i don't see it. i'm a caveman. i must be a caveman. wtf is that table with the bowls? seriously. it's like a display at target but not even in houseware, it's in the dorm accesories section. and it's half price. sorry. i'm a surburban idiot who thinks about target. i don't get it. at. all.