Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

Santa Fe, NM



Georgia O'Keeffe: The Poetry of Things


The first major exhibition to focus exclusively on Georgia O'Keeffe's still life paintings will arrive in Santa Fe this summer, affording visitors to The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum a rare opportunity to see some of the artist's best-loved works. Georgia O'Keeffe: The Poetry of Things opens in Santa Fe on Friday, August 6, 1999, and will run through October 17, 1999.

Co-organized by the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. and the Dallas Museum of Art, Georgia O'Keeffe: The Poetry of Things will also travel to the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. The exhibition contains paintings by O'Keeffe displayed with objects like those in the paintings and photographs of the places she lived and worked. The exhibition draws from collections as diverse as the Art Students League of New York, The Menil Collection in Houston, The Birmingham Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art as well as the participating museums and private collectors.

The exhibition, which numbers 64 paintings dated from 1908 to 1963, focuses on O'Keeffe's extraordinary achievements in still life paintings. According to The Phillips Collection's Dr. Elizabeth Hutton Turner, curator of the exhibition, "O'Keeffe told students to find art in the everyday: 'When you buy a pair of shoes,' 'address a letter' or 'comb your hair.'" O'Keeffe's still-lives are among the best known and best loved of her works.

Turner says, "Georgia O'Keeffe: The Poetry of Things invites a closer look at O'Keeffe's aesthetic and a new way of looking at objects by placing her work in proximity to real objects of the type she collected, along with photo murals of her classroom, studio and domestic settings. Throughout the exhibition, O'Keeffe's linear and spatial aesthetic and her own settings and installations find expression in the design and presentation of her work in the gallery spaces."

"We are extremely pleased to bring this exhibition to Santa Fe, and delighted that our visitors will be able to view this stunning collection of Georgia O'Keeffe's work," says George G. King, director of The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.



A comprehensive catalogue, the first to focus exclusively on O'Keeffe's extraordinary achievement in still life painting, will document the exhibition. It will include an essay by The Phillips Collection's Curator, Dr. Elizabeth Hutton Turner, who will investigate the unique melding of Eastern and Western thought in O'Keeffe's approach to objects. A second essay by independent scholar/art historian Dr. Marjorie Balge-Crozier will compare O'Keeffe's invention in still life to academic practices and traditional models in Western art. Each essay will contain comparative black and white illustrations, including contextual photographs of O'Keeffe's studios, collections, and exhibition installations as well as related historical and contemporary works. In addition, the catalogue will include a chronology and color plates of each work in the exhibition.


Notes of the Curator of the Exhibition

The legacy of Georgia O'Keeffe is connected in many ways to objects that she found, admired, collected, and painted. They alone most closely convey her chosen form of expression.

Georgia O'Keeffe: The Poetry of Things is the first exhibition to focus in-depth on O'Keeffe's combined spirituality and aesthetics as portrayed in her paintings of objects. It examines her intimate relationship with the objects she chose, how she saw them, and the interpretation of the object on the canvas.

The exhibition's point of departure is the moment in 1915 when O'Keeffe first divided her early revolutionary charcoals into two categories, "landscapes" and "things". The works that she designated "things"-- often images that are more abstract than illusionistic -- have a decidedly organic character. Indeed, patterns in these compositions correspond to those found in her later depictions of apples, trees, leaves, shells, and bones. O'Keeffe, by virtue of her language of color and form, transformed the ebbs and flows of nature's forms into objects for contemplation.

Today the public may know more about elements of O'Keeffe's personal biography and the triumphs and tragedies of her life with Alfred Stieglitz than they know of her deeply personal approach to art. Ironically, we still don't know enough about the philosophy and aesthetics underlying the choices she made in her own work. This exhibition of 68 works, dating from 1908 to 1963, brings a fruitful line of inquiry into the rich and complex personal iconology which O'Keeffe created over the course of her career.

For O'Keeffe, the object alone could never substitute for the work of art. Color was her formal language. When asked to choose whether the flower or the color was her focus, O'Keeffe refused to say. Instead she spoke of the primacy of aesthetics. "What is my experience of the flower if not color?" she declared. Though explaining little about her themes and sources, she credited her teacher Arthur Wesley Dow for giving her something to do with her finely honed skills in watercolor and oil. She also expressed an affinity for music and the economy of Chinese poetry. Toward the end of her life there is the poignancy of her repeated request to be read to from two books: Wassily Kandinsky's Concerning the Spiritual in Art and Okakura's The Book of Tea.

To see and appreciate O'Keeffe's method is to become deeply rooted in the American experience -- particularly America's close identification with nature. Understanding O'Keeffe's process can be as simple as taking a walk outdoors or as complex as transcending visible reality, capturing what she called "the unexplainable thing in nature."

O'Keeffe's imaginative process was poetic and precise. The images she conveyed in her paintings can be said to mirror an active mind fetching something new and then registering it into the field of consciousness. Therein lies her artistic poetry of selection, elimination, and emphasis.

Georgia O'Keeffe images from top to bottom: Calla Lily in Tall Glass, 1923, Oil on board, 32 1/8 inches x 12 inches, Gift of The Burnett Foundation, © The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Photo: Wendy McEahern; Bell, Cross, Ranchos Church, New Mexico, 1930, Oil on canvas, 30 inches x 16 inches, Gift of The Burnett Foundation, © The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Photo: Wendy McEahern; My Last Door, 1954, Oil on canvas, 48 inches x 84 inches, Gift of The Burnett Foundation, © The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Photo: Wendy McEahern

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Resource Library.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 10/18/10, 12/10/10

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