Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986) pioneered new and revolutionary ways of visually interpreting the world, creating some of the most enduring images of the 20th century. Her early embrace and innovative use of abstraction and color has left a lasting legacy for artists working today. On Saturday, October 13, the NCMA opens an exciting new exhibition that explores and celebrates that legacy, The Beyond: Georgia O’Keeffe and Contemporary Art.
Georgia O’Keeffe, The Beyond, 1972, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 in., Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, gift of The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation (2006.05.460); © 2018 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum; Photograph: Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
The Beyond presents a site of conversation between this founder of American modernism and 20 emerging artists who have been influenced by her. Viewers will encounter over 30 iconic O’Keeffe works alongside contemporary art that evokes, investigates, and expands upon O’Keeffe’s enchanting artistic language. Enormous flowers, luscious color, airy compositions full of light, and clean forms that verge on abstraction—these familiar hallmarks of O’Keeffe’s paintings are seen anew through their continued influence on contemporary artists working in a variety of media.
Arranged by theme, the exhibition starts with “Flowers,” O’Keeffe’s investigation of the subject beginning in the 1920s as a response to the modern skyscraper. Through their massive scale and radical cropping, O’Keeffe’s paintings of flowers contend with the aesthetic of the Machine Age by confronting viewers with their outsized natural beauty. Also in this section are contemporary works by artists Wardell Milan, Jennifer Packer, Britny Wainwright, and Louise Jones, which use the flower to engage timely subjects, from police violence to the contemporary economy.
Georgia O’Keeffe, Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, 1932, oil on canvas, 48 x 40 in., Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2014.35; © 2018 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum; Photograph: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art/Edward C. Robinson III
“Finding the Figure” presents O’Keeffe’s early watercolors of obscured human forms as a touchstone for artists such as Tschabalala Self, Andy Robert, Matthew Ronay, Monica Kim Garza, and Loie Hollowell. These artists deploy the human figure as subject matter, sometimes substituting radical presence in the face of O’Keeffe’s telling absence. “The Intangible Thing” explores the blurred boundaries between realism and abstraction, showing O’Keeffe’s foundational abstract works beside paintings, sculptural installations, and photographs by Pearl C. Hsiung, Molly Larkey, and Kim Keever. “Still Lifes” investigates the long tradition of painting things closely observed, featuring O’Keeffe’s found objects such as rocks and animal bones from the New Mexican desert, sometimes combined with landscapes to create wondrous spatial effects. Anna Valdez and Jennifer Packer echo O’Keeffe’s investment in close observation in their still-life paintings while forging new paths of their own.
“Cities and Deserts” traverses the two locales where O’Keeffe spent the majority of her life—New York City and Northern New Mexico. Like O’Keeffe, Caroline Larsen responds to the desert of her own time, while Cynthia Daignault, Mark Lewis, Negar Ahkami, Milano Chow, and Sharona Eliassaf are drawn to both the dynamic nature of the city and changing terrains in between.
The exhibition ends with “The Beyond,” displaying the most abstract paintings of O’Keeffe’s career. Inspired by the aerial views she encountered on her travels by airplane, these expansive works may represent what remained beyond the realm of O’Keeffe’s perception as she began to partially lose her sight, or perhaps what lay before her in the approaching horizon—through the airplane’s window, or beyond life itself. Sharing similar concerns, Dylan Gebbia-Richards’s vibrant wax installation in this section envelops viewers in its otherworldly crystal-like formations, serving as a meditative embrace that encompasses both the vastness and intimacy of the natural world.
Over the course of her long career, O’Keeffe found ethereal beauty in her everyday world. Like O’Keeffe, the artists in this exhibition continue to pursue their own horizons, pushing abstraction, depictions of the body, and the natural world beyond the ordinary.