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Mary Heilmann in "Fantasy"

“Every piece of abstract art that I make has a back story,” says Mary Heilmann, who relays youthful fantasies of wanting to be a Catholic martyr, her childhood dream to become an artist, as well as the antagonism she experienced in school when transitioning from pottery to painting. Shown completing a new body of work, the segment begins in the artist’s secluded Bridgehampton studio on Long Island.

“My spiritual life is very important to me and I think the artworks are icons,” says Heilmann, who believes in the ecumenical power of art to “transport a person in a soulful, rich way, without having any fear of punishment or Hell or sin.” The segment also features Heilmann’s touring retrospective at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, where she’s designed colorful chairs on wheels that viewers can use to relax, meditate, or socialize with one another and have “a conversation through the work.”

More information and credits


Created by: Susan Sollins & Susan Dowling. Executive Producer & Curator: Susan Sollins. Series Producer: Eve-Laure Moros Ortega. Associate Producer: Migs Wright. Associate Curator: Wesley Miller. Production Manager: Nick Ravich. Production Coordinator: Larissa Nikola-Lisa. Consulting Director: Catherine Tatge. Editor: Mark Sutton. Director of Photography: Takahisa Araki, Martial Barrault, Kurt Branstetter, Robert Elfstrom, Mark Falstad, Miguel Sanchez-Martin, Ian Serfontein, & Joel Shapiro. Additional Photography: Frank Dellario, Brian Hwang, & Clair Popkin. Sound: Tom Bergin, Ray Day, Steve “Major” Giammaria, Heidi Hesse, Mark Mandler, Roger Phenix, & Paul Stadden. Assistant Camera: Agnès Jammal, Jin Long Nan, Clair Popkin, Nick Skolnick, Adriano Vasquez, & Jean-Pierre Vial. Grip: Scott Barhends & Bill Frye. Field Producer: David Howe. Cao Fei Interview & Translation: Phil Tinari & Xiaotong Wang.

Creative Consultant: Ed Sherin. Art Direction & Design: Open, New York. Graphics Animation: Maurice Caicedo & Urosh Perishic. On-Line Editor: Don Wyllie. Composer: Peter Foley. Voice-Over Artist: Jace Alexander. Sound Editing: Margaret Crimmins & Greg Smith. Sound Mix: Cory Melious. Artwork Animation: Frank Ferrigno. Assistant Editor: Ahmed Amer, Janine Cappadona, Paulo Padilha, Joaquin Perez, Leana Siochi, & Ken Yapelli.

Artworks Courtesy of: Cao Fei; Mary Heilmann; Jeff Koons; Florian Maier-Aichen; 303 Gallery, New York; Blum & Poe, Los Angeles; Lombard-Freid Projects, New York; Pace Prints, New York; & RMB City 2009.

Special Thanks: The Art21 Board of Trustees; Michael Ashburn; Sarah Barasch; Travis Call; Pat Carney; Pat Casteel and Steve Wylie; Chåteau de Versailles Spectacles; Xixi Chen; Ralph Cuccurullo; Samantha Culp; Jill Davis; Dog Bark Sound; Tom Donnelly; Jessica Eisenthal; L’Etablissement Public du musée et du domaine national de Versailles; Frame:Runner, NYC; Alexandra Gaty; Simon Greenberg; Elizabeth Hull; Jeff Koons Studio, New York; Lu Jia; Tomoko Kimata; Sarah Kohn; Venus Lau; Mengxian Li; Karla Loring; Amy Lukas; Sheila Lynch; Carlin Mayer; Mariko Munro; Renée Martin; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Erik Pepple; Heather Rasmussen; Andre Ribuoli; RMB City Studio, Beijing; Lauran Rothstein; Nancy Schindele; Susan Schneider; Kathrin Schweizer; Serpentine Gallery, London; Keith Shapiro; Karen Simonian; Sound Lounge; John Steele; Kelsey Sundberg; Liane Thatcher; Fleur Treglown; Vitamin Creative Space, Beijing; Tony Volante; Amy Wenzel; & Wexner Center for the Arts.

Additional Art21 Staff: Beth Allen, Mary Cook, Joe Fusaro, Jessica Hamlin, Jennifer H. Lee, Marc Mayer, Jonathan Munar, Katherine Payne, Kelly Shindler, & Sara Simonson.

Interns: Maggie Bordonaro, Krystle DeMauro, Natalia P. Good, Sophie Grant, Pinchang Huang, Joy Lai, Rachele Lam, Jamie Leonardi, Melanie K. Mambo, Pauli Ochi, Sara Odam, David Roesing, Nicole Ross, Nicole Sansone, & Julia Wright.

Public Relations: Goodman Media International. Station Relations: De Shields Associates, Inc. Legal Counsel: Albert Gottesman. Bookkeeper: Valerie Riley. Travel Agent: Lita Gottesman.

Major underwriting for Art in the Twenty-First Century Season Five provided by: National Endowment for the Arts; Public Broadcasting Service; Agnes Gund; Bloomberg; The Nathan Cummings Foundation; The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; The Broad Art Foundation; Korea Foundation; & The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Mary Heilmann

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 expert and sometimes surprising treatment of paint—alternately diaphanous and goopy—complements a keen sense of color that glories in the hues and light that emanate from her laptop, and finds inspiration in the saturated colors of TV cartoons. 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.

“I thought about making pieces, partly for their formal values, and also very much for…what kind of response I would get to it. And often the response that I wanted was one of antagonism. I wanted to cause trouble.”

Mary Heilmann

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Mary Heilmann

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Every Piece has a Backstory

This interview consists of excerpts from a 2008 interview with Mary Heilmann, in which she discusses her formative years in California; evolution from literature to ceramics to painting; and many inspirations, including video games and roadways.

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