Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe’s in­flu­ence goes far be­yond flow­ers

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY DAVID MENCONI dmen­[email protected]­sob­ DavidMen­coni: 919-829-4759, @NCDavidMen­coni

Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe’s art­work is some of the most rec­og­niz­able of­mod­ern times. Even so, if you’ve never ac­tu­ally seen O’Ke­effe’s paint­ings up­close and in-per­son, “The Be­yond: Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe and Con­tem­po­rary Art” is a rev­e­la­tion.

The show, which opened Oct. 13, brings the three­d­i­men­sional as­pects of O’Ke­effe’s im­agery to life. By pair­ing her work with pieces by a wide range of younger artists for the pur­poses of com­par­ing and con­trast­ing, “The Be­yond” gives a sense of O’Ke­effe’s sig­nif­i­cance and place in his­tory.

“Decades be­yond her life, Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe is still hav­ing im­pact and in­flu­ence on art,” said Linda Dougherty, chief cu­ra­tor at the NCMu­seum of Art. “See­ing her work side by side with con­tem­po­rary artists makes you look at her work dif­fer- ently, too, with a new per­spec­tive.”

O’Ke­effe lived a long and amaz­ingly pro­duc­tive life, dy­ing in 1986 at age 98. Along with desert land­scapes, her best-known im­ages re­main close­cropped paint­ings of flow­ers en­larged to the edge of the frame.

Much has been made of the sex­u­al­ity evoked by O’Ke­effe’s flower paint­ings. But she meant their scale to be at­ten­tion-get­ting.

“She be­gan paint­ing the flow­ers in 1924, when New York City was her en­vi­ron­ment,” said Lau­ren Ap­ple­baum, GSK cu­ra­to­rial fel­low at the NC Mu­seum of Art. “Blow­ing them up and rad­i­cally crop­ping them was in di­rect re­sponse to the sky­scrapers there, a way to get you to stop and look. It took that scale to com­pete.”


“The Be­yond” has 35 works by O’Ke­effe, mostly paint­ings but also the aptly ti­tled 1946 white-lac­quered bronze sculp­ture “Ab­strac­tion,” which looks like a cross be­tween a tuba and an in­ner ear.

The show has some wa­ter­color paint­ings go­ing as far back as 1916, as well as late-pe­riod works from the 1970s. The 1972 ti­tle paint­ing, which de­picts the hori­zon as viewed out of an air­plane win­dow, is the last one O’Ke­effe com­pleted unas­sisted as her eye­sight was fail­ing.

Among other great­est hits are the desert sur­re­al­ism of 1944’s “Fly­ing Back­bone” and 1927’s “Ra­di­a­tor Build­ing – Night, New York,” a sky­scraper paint­ing that in­cludes the name of her hus­band (the pho­tog­ra­pher Al­fred Stieglitz) in red neon.

The Crys­tal Bridges Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art in Arkansas orig­i­nated “The Be­yond” and de­buted the show this May. Raleigh is the sec­ond stop, and it will be on dis­play un­til Jan. 20. Then it will open in Fe­bru­ary at the New Bri­tain Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art.

Works in “The Be­yond” are not pre­sented chrono­log­i­cally but the­mat­i­cally, grouped into cat­e­gories like “Find­ing the Fig­ure,” “The In­tan­gi­ble” and “Cities & Deserts.”

“I think peo­ple will be sur­prised by the ab­strac­tions, which are not as well-known,” said Dougherty. “But they’re re­ally time­less. They all could have been painted 100 years later and would still be rel­e­vant.”

The ex­hibit is tick­eted with “Can­dida Höfer in Mex­ico,” 25 photos from the German pho­tog­ra­pher known for pho­tograph­ing large-scale por­traits of sig­nif­i­cant art in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing the Uf­fizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, and the Lou­vre in Paris, ac­cord­ing to the N.C. Mu­seum of Art. This ex­hibit will show­case Hofer’s photos from a trip to Mex­ico, in­clud­ing in­te­ri­ors of churches, the­aters and mu­se­ums to tell the story of Mex­ico’s his­tory.


On the con­tem­po­rary side are works that show ob­vi­ous sim­i­lar­i­ties, like Sharona Elias­saf’s col­or­ful sky­line land­scape “Stars to Dust, Dust to Stars.” Other con­nec­tions, such as Dy­lan Geb­bia-Richards’ wax cre­ation “Omni” and Britny Wain­wright’s sculp­tures, are more ab­stract.

Dougherty said the cu­ra­tors weren’t seek­ing art­work di­rectly in­flu­enced by O’Ke­effe’s vis­ual style so much as artists ex­plor­ing sim­i­lar ideas.

“Some of the artists ap­proached would say, ‘Oh, I love Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe, had one of her books dur­ing high school,’ ” said Dougherty. “Oth­ers said they’d never thought about her, but they un­der­stood that they were sim­i­larly in­ter­ested in ab­strac­tion, rep­re­sen­ta­tion, the power of color.”

It’s work that tran­scends gen­der.

“Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe is thought of as a ‘fe­male artist’ and is so as­so­ci­ated with sex­u­al­ity,” said Ap­ple­baum. “There were so few women in the art world then, so that tends to be what makes her stand out. But I’m hop­ing peo­ple will see she was more than that. She was a key in­no­va­tor, do­ing in­cred­i­ble things. She was one of the first artists, not just woman artist, to re­ally ex­per­i­ment with ab­strac­tion.”

AMON CARTER MU­SEUM OF AMER­I­CAN ART Copy­right 2018 Crys­tal Bridges Mu­seum

Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe’s “Small Pur­ple Hills,” 1934, oil on panel, 16x19 ae in., Crys­tal Bridges Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art, Ben­tonville, Arkansas. O’Ke­effe’s art­work is on ex­hibit in “The Be­yond: Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe and Con­tem­po­rary Art” at the North Carolina Mu­seum of Art from Oct. 13-Jan. 20, which also shows works from art in­flu­enced by O’Ke­effe.

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