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Exhibiting the bright, dynamic work of Louisiana painter and sculptor Ida Kohlmeyer at the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum, the Geometry with Feeling: Ida Kohlmeyer in Two & Three Dimensions exhibition functions as a modest retrospective of the artist's career, extending its reach across time and mediums. The Blowing Rock Art and History Museum (BRAHM) strives to culturally enrich the community and through its exhibition program, the museum makes connections between the High Country's Southern Appalachian cultural history and the broader world. The presentation of work by Kohlmeyer – an innovative Southern artist who, despite her absence from the New York art scene, found grand success in abstract artmaking inspired by folk art and craft – is situated perfectly within BRAHM's vision of acquiring and exhibiting significant works of art and craft.
From BRAHM's permanent collection and reflective of the artist's early gravitation toward abstract painting, Kohlmeyer's Transitive (1959) was the catalyst for this exhibition. Muted in color and composition compared to the other six pieces included in the show, this oil painting on masonite portrays Kohlmeyer's experimentation with the saturated color fields and smooth color transitions characteristic of abstract painter Mark Rothko. There is no real distinguished "subject" in this piece and though the rest of the work in the exhibition differs greatly from this piece, in the examples of the artist's later work in the gallery, these color transitions are implemented underneath her symbols.
Cluster 88-1 (1988-94) and Composite #5 (1990) both depict such symbols aligned within rather fluid grids. Influenced by Southern craft, Kohlmeyer created a vocabulary of images or a lexicon of pictographs that seems to function as a visual language of characters or icons. As for what these symbols are trying to convey – that is open to interpretation. In Composite #5, I see indistinct gestures of elements found in traditional still-life paintings… is that an apple? A shoe? Maybe that's an insect? However, in Cluster Shelf #3 (1985), a three-dimensional realization of these paintings in which a two-tiered shelf of wood separates six objects into individual linear positions, the items cannot be identified (even doubtfully). These two-dimensional icons on canvas and three-dimensional symbols on wood shelving do suggest a sort of still-life; perhaps, though, Kohlmeyer's paintings and sculptures in her Cluster and Composite series venture to escape this "still" quality of life seen in celebrated still-lives and landscapes. Instead, her work embraces the indescribable lively nature of life that swells beyond verbal and pictorial translation and is communicated through expressions of feeling. I plunged into these contemplative thoughts of Kohlmeyer's work and what she was trying to convey after reading the "Art Detective" wall plaques placed throughout the gallery. Their invitation to look closely at the art is likely intended for young audiences, but statements and questions such as "Ida Kohlmeyer used repeated forms and colors in her work. What similar shapes or colors do you see in these sculptures and paintings?" encouraged my consideration of each individual work of art and the exhibition as a whole.
In terms of its installation and ability to communicate how Kohlmeyer's work evolved across boundaries of time and medium, I found Untitled (1990) to be the strongest piece in the exhibition. The large painted and enameled aluminum sculpture depicting bright layered streaks of color hangs slightly forward on the wall while track lights cast multiple complementary shadows beneath it, emphasizing its energy and suggesting perpetual movement. Displayed in this space with wood flooring and stone pillars, the organic qualities of Kohlmeyer's work, especially the sculpture, is highlighted in a way that would be impossible in a more conventional white-cube gallery.
The exhibition includes a well-rounded variety of examples of Kohlmeyer's work from the BRAHM permanent collection, private collections, and gallery holdings. While I wish there were more than seven works of art, I found that the selection made the experience more intimate and invited me to discover concrete links between the works exhibited. I believe such an enveloping encounter with Kohlmeyer's work was due, in part, to the site of the museum itself. With its character and role as the space for BRAHM to interlace national art with the region's heritage and craft, the building and its location in the Blue Ridge Mountains contributes to Kohlmeyer's work in a profoundly special way, further connecting the visible geometric abstractions with the history of craft from which it draws influence. And, in the decision to install this show in the first gallery that visitors enter, one is transported into consideration of how Kohlmeyer's inventive approaches to abstraction interact with the heritage and history of craft in the High Country.
Geometry with Feeling: Ida Kohlmeyer in Two & Three Dimensions is on view in Cannon Gallery of the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum through Sunday, May 7. For more details on this exhibition, please view the sidebar.
And, during your visit to BRAHM, be sure to visit the other temporary exhibitions on view. Notably, do not miss Uncommon Volumes: Sculptural Selections from Studio Glass in the Region. On view until April 1, this exhibition presents captivating sculptural glass experimentations of various regional artists.
BRAHM will hold guided tours of its winter exhibitions with docent Sam Reep from 6:00 to 7:00 pm on Thursday, February 16; Thursday, March 2; and Thursday, March 9. The tours will give special attention to the Geometry with Feeling: Ida Kohlmeyer in Two & Three Dimensions exhibition. These events are free, but as space is limited, registration is recommended. Learn more about the tours and other events on BRAHM's calendar here.