Through May 23. Berry Campbell, Manhattan; 212-924-2178, berrycampbell.com.
I learned of the artist Ida Kohlmeyer (1912-97) primarily as a teacher at Newcomb College, the women’s college at Tulane University in New Orleans, from one of her former students, the Post-Minimalist shape-shifter Lynda Benglis. In the 1970s Kohlmeyer developed a style of multihued pictographs, usually organized on a grid. Pleasantly derivative, they suggested well-behaved Joan Snyder paintings. Kohlmeyer seemed to be a journeyman artist who kept up with the latest trends; had a good color sense and a solid touch; but who never put the pedal to the metal to find out what she could do that no other artist could.
Then the announcement for “Cloistered,” the first Kohlmeyer exhibition at Berry Campbell, arrived by email and I stood corrected. Pedal and metal had made contact. Kohlmeyer had done something that was way above her usual average, something simple and intense. In 1968 and ’69, she produced a group of symmetrical geometric abstract paintings in a rich, winy palette. Hand drawn, their harsh shapes begin at the center of the painting’s edges, widening into diamond or chevron shapes at the center. They suggest the plans for ancient forts, and appropriately so. Cocooned at the center of this symmetry was softer symbol of vulnerability: a simple circle, or occasionally an ellipse, as in the yolk yellow one that, like the air bubble in a carpenter’s level, forms the living heart of the remarkable “Cloistered,” protected by concentric bands of deep red.
Almost never exhibited, these works may be derivative but they are gloriously so. They’re so full of the work of disparate artists that they become overarching, laying waste to the term. The gallery’s press material invites comparison with the work of Georgia O’Keeffe and Agnes Pelton. That’s fine, but more contemporary references come to mind, like Jasper Johns’s and Kenneth Noland’s targets, Billy Al Bengston’s centered irises and sundry Frank Stella paintings. Then Kohlmeyer’s efforts turn away from the men to evoke the early work of Eva Hesse and Agnes Martin, Judy Chicago’s built-up dinner plates, the dark reliefs of Lee Bontecou. The list could go on.
One of my favorites is an untitled work that features a plushy five-point star in shades of light brown enclosed in a red pentagon that fades to pink. These paintings stunningly sum up a moment when Minimalism was giving way to or being complicated by something more emotionally challenging and implicitly feminine and feminist. They could hang in any museum.
There is much more to know about Kohlmeyer, a late-blooming artist who had a successful career even without her best work — the “Cloistered” paintings — whose possibilities she unfortunately chose not to explore. ROBERTA SMITH
Through April 26. Bodega Gallery, Manhattan; bodega-us.org.
In some ways, Gene Beery’s “Transmissions From Logoscape Ranch” at Bodega Gallery was made to be seen online. Adapted from a career-spanning 2019 exhibition in San Francisco, it includes a host of this California conceptualist’s small text paintings along with three short videos. The paintings, many featuring their jokey, unsettling koans in the artist’s signature black on white, are easily read as JPEGs (“Unknown Unknowns,” “What Is the Formula for Originality?”), while the videos may even look better on your laptop than they do installed.
But pay attention to the video “Your Move.” Seated at a crowded breakfast table, the octogenarian artist and his grandson take alternate small actions — moving a lid, pouring milk — which they punctuate with the phrase “Your move!” It’s an inspired distillation not just of how games are played, but also of how we communicate in general. The only limits on what we can say to one another are those of context and vocabulary: Whatever the grandson may mean by leaning his knife against a jelly jar, it would mean something different if he did it with a pencil, or in a restaurant.
In this way, the show also pins down the underlying sadness of looking at art right now, precisely because it looks so good online. It’s still not the same. WILL HEINRICH
Catherine Murphy and Terry Winters
Through April 10. The National Exemplar, 323 North Linn Street, Iowa City, and online at thenationalexemplargallery.com.
For the last decade, the Argentine artist Eneas Capalbo has staged small, tight retrospectives and unexpected revivals at his gallery, the National Exemplar, which until last year could be found in a stark TriBeCa basement. Turns out I wouldn’t have been able to see his latest show if I tried. Just as numerous galleries were relocating to his neighborhood, Mr. Capalbo quietly blew out of town for Iowa City, where the gallery’s second Midwest show features two quite different virtuosos of drawing.
One is Catherine Murphy, represented by three stringently observed half-length self-portraits in pencil from 1971 (and a fourth, from 2002, that depicts the artist’s kerchiefed head from behind). In each, she appears serious but not stern, and online the reproductions are hi-res enough to reveal the exact lines that define Ms. Murphy’s shirt or her hair part, the rubbing of her shadowed forehead, the darker hatches under her eyes. These drawings follow in a tradition, dating back to Rembrandt at least, of self-portraiture as vindication of the artist’s technical skill. Yet in the aftermath of modernism, Ms. Murphy treats skill differently; she makes observation itself the subject of scrutiny, and expresses a careful, even claustrophobic consciousness at work.
Three newer, similarly scaled drawings by Terry Winters depict white shapes, overlaid with contoured stripes or grids, which are set within fields of black — but, in the company of Ms. Murphy’s self-portraits, have the fullness of faces. Their wire-mesh lineaments recall the rendering software used by Hollywood studios to create 3D-animated characters — or, more worryingly, the scanning capabilities of government and corporate surveillants. The gallery’s online presentation includes several installation shots that reveal Ms. Murphy’s and Mr. Winters’s playing off each other, as well as off mirrored closets in the Iowa gallery, which appears to be the ground floor of a home. You could spend a long time looking at these portraits if this is where you were sheltered in place. JASON FARAGO