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by N. F. Karlins
Kate's Herd (White Iridescent)
ca. 1979
Heerstrasse & Montag
Mo & Jo
Ant #2
Untitled Shell (Blue Warrior)
Pounce. Don't miss the strange, elegant -- things? creatures? -- well, whatever Leslie Bohnenkamp has produced, they are unforgettable. His Kate's Herd (White Iridescent), a bevy of small spirals of white-painted paper, seem to have scented an interesting, perhaps hostile, force nearby. Their delicate snout-like tops flex with all the grace of a gazelle or giraffe. These spare and whimsical abstractions are so animate, I keep thinking of them as pods, escapees from some UFO.

"Leslie Bohnenkamp: Spirals in Space and Time: Sculpture in Paper and Fiber," on view at the Joseph Rickards Gallery on Madison Avenue in New York, has been extended through Jan. 29, 2000, because of the avalanche of interested viewers, mostly artists. Bohnenkamp (1943-97) is one of our most under-appreciated and, until now, under-seen artists. He produced a small body of impressive work that is rarely on view, so don't pass up this opportunity.

Born in Iowa, Bohnenkamp started out as a fiber artist, winning a host of prestigious fellowships and grants after he moved East. Four of Bohnenkamp's intricately knotted off-loom pieces are on display. Heerstrasse (1972), in various shades of brown, is a floor piece that soars more than five feet in height.

His twirly Mo & Jo (1973) resembles the torsos of Elie Nadelman's pneumatic female figures at the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center, except that Bohnenkamp's pair are resolutely abstract and only eight inches high, despite their inherent monumentality.

In the mid- to late-1970s, Bohnenkamp gradually switched from creating hand-made weavings that took months apiece to sculpture that he made from paper and painted with watercolors or acrylic. His gifts for form and color translated easily into this new medium, and his efforts were noticed immediately. Betty Parsons presented his paper pieces in his first solo show at her legendary gallery in 1979.

In 1980, Bohnenkamp had the misfortune of being hit by a car while crossing a Manhattan street. Badly hurt, he seemed to recover, but suffered a head injury that eventually sapped his ability to work just as he was hitting his stride. He continued to produce works in paper for several years, but in decreasing numbers. He virtually stopped making art ten years before his death at 54.

Bohnenkamp could evoke every kind of emotion from his paint-and-paper spirals. One look at Untitled Shell (Blue Warrior) (1982), and you will agree that this talon-like work has earned its subtitle. Its green-copper patina conjures up bronze. It's hard to believe it's only humble paper.

Bohnenkamp did the odd painting or two, but he will be remembered for his impressive fiber works and his exhilaratingly modern sculpture. Painted paper never looked so good.

"Leslie Bohnenkamp: Spirals in Space and Time: Sculpture in Paper and Fiber," Dec. 2, 1999-Jan. 29, 2000, at Joseph Rickards Gallery, 1045 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. The prices for the works range from $2,500 to $7,000.

N. F. KARLINS is a New York writer and art historian.