Art21 Extended Play

Mary Heilmann: Abstract Painting


Episode #116: Mary Heilmann describes a breakthrough she had of combining gestural and hard-edge abstracton in a single painting, combining the legacies of Willem de Kooning and Josef Albers.

For every piece of Mary Heilmann’s work—abstract paintings, ceramics, and furniture—there is a backstory. Imbued with recollections, stories spun from her imagination, and references to music, aesthetic influences, and dreams, her paintings are like meditations or icons. Her compositions are often hybrid spatial environments that juxtapose two- and three-dimensional renderings in a single frame, join several canvases into new works, or create diptychs of paintings and photographs in the form of prints, slideshows, and videos. Heilmann sometimes installs her paintings alongside chairs and benches that she builds by hand, an open invitation for viewers to socialize and contemplate her work communally.

Mary Heilmann is featured in the Season 5 (2009) episode Fantasy of the Art in the Twenty-First Century television series on PBS. Download-to-own the full episode from iTunes.

VIDEO | Producer: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Interview: Susan Sollins. Camera: Mark Falstad & Joel Shapiro. Sound: Roger Phenix. Editor: Paulo Padilha. Artwork Courtesy: Mary Heilmann. Special Thanks: Wexner Center for the Arts.


  1. Martin says:

    Wow, great artist and good video.
    I think I won’t like the pictures so much if I only see it in a gallery eg. But the video is a great way to introduce the hole context – the pictures, the idea of art, the artist and so on.
    Thanks, Martin

  2. Douglas Lain says:

    Mary Heilmann describing her work as fake abstract expressionism reminds me of Slavoj Zizek’s joke about postmodernists who can’t say anything directly because to say it directly would be too much, so they can’t say, “I’d like a cup of tea.” They say, “If we can agree in our language game that we could risk the hypothesis that this is a cup of tea, and if we can assume that my desires are so arranged in the ideological field that I can speak of them, then I would go on to make the suggestion that this thing that we call a cup of tea is something that it could be said that I desire.” The constant denial and distancing is there because Judy Butler believes too much in her own words.
    Why not an abstract expressionist painting? Why should she insist that her paintings are fakes?

  3. Every abstract paintings has taken the time and effort of an artist so it is just right the art must be appreciated.

  4. Hamid says:

    Nicee Video!
    i am interested in paintings and it looks so beautiful. That is my passion and i hope i can paint many pictures in my life.

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