Georgia O’Keeffe’s influence goes far beyond flowers
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.”
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.