QUESTIONS: Mary Heilmann

The following questions can be used to spark conversation before, during, and after viewing the artist's film segment. They were compiled from our Educators' Guides and Screening Toolkits. We strongly encourage active viewing strategies that involve audiences in discussion in order to anticipate and set-up the ideas in the film, clarify content, or further the ideas while watching, and gives viewers the opportunity to process and re-consider their ideas after watching. Additional resources and strategies for teaching with films and working with contemporary art can be found in Teach.


"Flying Saucer Project" ceramics on "Chartreuse Table," 2008. "Installation view of Mary Heilmann: To Be Someone at the New Museum," New York, October 22, 2008 – January 25, 2009. © Mary Heilmann. Courtesy the artist, 303 Gallery, New York and Hauser & Wirth, Zürich London.

Before Viewing
What is an icon? Can a contemporary work of art function as an icon? Why or why not? Give specific examples.

How can colors and shapes convey a narrative? Can abstract imagery tell a story? How?


SEGMENT: Mary Heilmann in "Fantasy"

While Viewing
Heilmann says that color can be thought of in an iconographic way. List the colors that could be considered iconographic in Heilmann's work, and the associations they bring to mind.


"Thief of Baghdad," 2007. Aquatint & archival pigment inkjet, Image: Each side of diptych 23 x 15 3/8 inches, Paper: 28 7/8 x 38 3/8 inches. Edition of 35. Courtesy Pace Editions, New York.

What kinds of juxtapositions does Heilmann make in her slideshows? In what ways are her images both representational and abstract?

Heilmann says, of some of her early paintings: "First they're objects, and then they're pictures of something." What do you think she means by this?


"Two Lane Blacktop," 2008. Oil on canvas, 42 x 42 inches. © Mary Heilmann. Courtesy the artist, 303 Gallery, New York and Hauser & Wirth, Zürich London.

After Viewing
What are the sources of inspiration for Heilmann's work? How do different sources come together in her paintings, ceramics, and slideshows?

Heilmann says that she wanted viewers to have an antagonistic response to her early work. What do you think that comment means? Describe other artists or art movements that have "caused trouble" and challenged the status quo?

Heilmann says that, as she matured, she realized that the most important thing about doing art was communicating and having a conversation through the work. What does Heilmann communicate through her work?


"Hokusai," 2004. Oil on canvas, diptych: 75 x 120 inches overall. © Mary Heilmann. Courtesy the artist, 303 Gallery, New York and Hauser & Wirth, Zürich London.