The daughter of Polish immigrants, Ida Rittenberg Kohlmeyer was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, where she would reside for the majority of her life. Following her graduation from Sophie Newcomb Memorial College at Tulane University, she married and raised a family. She casually began studying drawing and painting relatively late in life, taking her first classes at the John McCrady Art School in the French Quarter in 1947. Having discovered a passion for painting, she eventually pursued a master’s degree in fine arts at her alma mater. Kohlmeyer produced figurative studies of children and other representational subjects until she graduated in 1956. Immediately following graduation, she spent a formative summer at the Provincetown, Massachusetts, art colony where she studied under Hans Hofmann, the foremost instructor of modernist theory. Kohlmeyer likened her shift towards abstraction to being freed from prison. Her "great awakening" was further cemented by her encounter with Mark Rothko the following year. Rothko, a leading Abstract Expressionist, had come to New Orleans as a visiting artist at Tulane, and he set up his studio at Kohlmeyer’s family home. Rothko’s influence had such a profound impact on Kohlmeyer that she struggled for years to find her own unique style independent from his.
In the 1960s, Kohlmeyer experimented with abstract art and became affiliated with the Ruth White Gallery in Manhattan where her work was shown on a regular basis. She was also represented in the 28th Biennial of Contemporary American Painting at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., in 1963. By the 1970s, Kohlmeyer had abandoned figurative elements completely for non-objective subject matter. Her admiration of the Spanish modern artist Joan Miró (whom she had met in Paris in 1956) influenced her decision to develop her own code of schematic symbols, which she employed–often in grid pattern–throughout the rest of her career. Kohlmeyer’s mature work is the result of years of self-examination and continuous reduction of forms. Her paintings speak to the arbitrariness of symbols as well as to the universal desire to communicate. Later in her career, Kohlmeyer would earn acclaim for her sculpture, often quite large in scale and characterized by bold color and striking profiles.
Throughout her active career, which continued into the 1990s, Kohlmeyer successfully exhibited her work in New York galleries and important museums. She considered herself a beneficiary of the feminist art movement and in 1980 received the National Women's Caucus for Art's outstanding achievement award. She described her drive to make art as a "compulsion, a withdrawal from much that is pleasureable in life, a need to work, for which no other activity can substitute, and a constant search for self." Ida Kohlmeyer's work is represented in the permanent collections of such prestigious institutions as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Museum of Women in the Arts, High Museum, Brooklyn Museum, and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, among others.