Cynthia Talmadge Searches for a Nearly Forgotten Artist in a Standout Art Basel Miami Beach Booth

In 1964, Mary Pinchot Meyer, a Color Field painter, was found dead by the side of a road. The year before, her lover, John F. Kennedy, had been murdered. As a result, conspiracy theories about the CIA’s involvement in both deaths swirled. Not only is Meyer considered to have introduced JFK to psychedelics and pushed him toward pacifism, but her husband, Cord Meyer, was also a high-ranking CIA operative.

Yet Meyer’s story is nowhere near as well-known as JFK’s assassination. Tellingly, her Wikipedia page is much more focused on her relationship with him than her work as an artist. But with a new series of works by Cynthia Talmadge at 56 Henry, Meyer’s identity as an artist is put front and center.

Talmadge’s paintings are large, running from the floor to the top of the booth. At Art Basel Miami Beach, just three of them are presented across a trio of walls. These paintings depict Meyer’s studio, and the effect of viewing them is so immersive that one feels as though they’ve entered the very space where works like Half Light were made.

Talmadge also prepared a hand-dyed rug split into four swatches done in a palette that references the one Meyer used for Half Light (1964), a painting owned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum: pale lavender, olive green, muted robin’s egg blue, and brown. Those same colors also appear in Talmadge’s paintings.

Known for her streetscapes and still lifes done in a style that recalls Georges Seurat’s Pointillism, Talmadge found herself drawn to Meyer’s story. The three diptychs Talmadge made after researching Meyer, part of a series titled “Half Light,” all represent the latter artist’s studio. But in a touch of historical fiction, every interior is imagined at different moments during Meyer’s story: the paranoid weeks that preceded her death, the studio being hastily cleaned up after the CIA ransack it, a quiet moment in 1963 before the personal and national tragedies had begun to unfold, and two scenes from 1969, in which Talmadge speculates on what Meyer might have done had she survived 1964 and gone on to achieve greater fame. In this future, she goes by Pinchot, her maiden name.

The visions Talmadge conjures are vivid. In Ex-Yale (2023), Meyer’s chintz curtains are stapled shut after a CIA break-in to retrieve Meyer’s diaries (which are still missing). In Daisy Chain (2023), set in an alternative 1969, the curtains are pulled back, revealing a slice of the Georgetown garden that her studio abutted.

It’s not the first time that Talmadge has installed her work to resemble a domestic interior. For a 2021 show at 56 Henry, titled “Franklin Fifth Helena,” Talmadge converted the gallery space into a small room. The title of the exhibition referenced the addresses of Marilyn Monroe (at 12305 Fifth Helena) and her psychiatrist Ralph Greenson (at 902 Franklin). Part of Greenson’s therapeutic approach involved having Marylin recreate parts of his home in hers. This eerie effort to conjoin their respective spaces formed the subject of Talmadge’s paintings.

Uniting these bodies of works is a sense of abandonment, spaces left in stasis when the figures that animate them are gone. As 56 Henry director Era Myrtezaj said, “[Talmadge] makes these kinds of paintings that bring up being really sad because you’ve been left alone during winter break at college and you’re smoking a cigarette while listening to Lana Del Rey except it looks like a Seurat.”





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