Mary Heilmann Saturday Night Kiss

26 August – 7 October 2006, Hauser & Wirth Zürich

Hauser & Wirth Zurich are delighted to present a solo exhibition by the American artist Mary Heilmann. On display is a selection of works on paper and prints dating from the years 1980-2006.

Mary Heilmann is considered one of the most influential abstract painters of her generation. Born and educated in California, she moved to New York in 1968, where she rubbed shoulders with many exponents of Minimalism and Pop Art. While her painting developed alongside these stylistic trends of the 1960s and 70s, it is not readily categorized in terms of a specific formal language. Rather, her oeuvre is highly original and the playful abstract images that she has created over the last three decades of her career are timeless.

At first sight, her works appear similar to the tradition of American abstract painting, seeming to follow the trend towards absolute reductionism. Her works are non-figurative and clearly informed by a geometric vocabulary. On closer inspection, however, Heilmann’s independence from such movements becomes apparent. Clearly visible brush strokes, a slight distortion of angular shapes, and spots and drips of paint in unexpected places, distance her from her contemporaries in a fashion that is superbly ironic. This year, in collaboration with Crown Point Press in San Francisco, Heilmann has produced aquatint etchings in glowing colours. These highlight a basic geometric grid as the foundation of the image, immediately tempering its severity with a bleeding upper edge – as in Valentine – or by ribs of dripping paint – as in Joaquin’s Close Out.

Heilmann’s early move to New York coincided with her switch from sculpture to painting. Despite this physical move, her compositions continue to refer to the experiences of her childhood on the West Coast – and perhaps reflect a certain nostalgia for them – using abstract forms heightened by symbolic colour. They are infused with numerous associations. Heilmann still feels close to the beach culture of California, especially the surfing scene, and to the Beat Generation with which she identified in her youth. Both visually and in their titles, her pictures allude to encounters and experiences, historic events and daily occurrences, film and song titles, and simple objects from her immediate environment.

“Each of my paintings can be seen as an autobiographical marker, a cue, by which I evoke a moment from my past, or my projected future, each a charm to conjure a mental reality and to give it physical form.”

Thus pictures such as 9th Wave (1988) and Whitewater (1991) testify to an enduring fascination of life lived near the ocean which she continues to do at a home on the eastern end of Long Island. The titles of both earlier works such as Save the Last Dance for Me (1979) and Tomorrow’s Parties (1979/1994) and more recent paintings like To Be Someone (2004) and Mariachi Static (2004) refer not only to specific pieces of music, but actually evoke the tunes in the viewer’s ears. Although the compositions are primarily non-figurative, they are universal, vividly bringing to life the viewer’s own associations with a world.

Mary Heilmann (born 1940) lives and works in New York. She has had solo exhibitions at the Secession in Vienna (2003), at the Camden Arts Centre in London (2001) and in the Kunstmuseum in St. Gallen (2000). She has also participated in major exhibitions such as ‘Der zerbrochene Spiegel’ at the Vienna Kunsthalle (1993-94) and ‘nuevas abstracciones’ at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid (1996). Her work is currently included in ‘Infinite Painting: Contemporary Painting and Global Realism’ at the Villa Manin in Italy.

In May 2007, Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach (CA) is mounting a survey show of her work which will be the first to include paintings, ceramics, furniture and works on paper. The show will travel to Houston (TX) and Columbus (OH) before arriving at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York in 2008.