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Georgia O'Keeffe

The Defining Art of the Southwest

A Rock Collection. Photograph of Georgia O’Keeffe in Abiquiu by Myron Wood, 1980.

A Rock Collection. Photograph of Georgia O’Keeffe in Abiquiu by Myron Wood, 1980.

Georgia O’Keeffe is coming to town in all her blooming glory. Eloquent Objects: Georgia O’Keeffe and Still Life Art in New Mexico arrives at the Fine Arts Center June 27-September 13. The FAC is one of only four venues in the U.S. to host this exhibit, curated by Charles C. Eldredge, former director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and currently Hall Distinguished Professor of American Art at the University of Kansas.

The blockbuster show includes more than 40 works by O’Keeffe and her Modernist contemporaries—artists who were synonymous with the famous art colonies of New Mexico in the early 20th century. Along with O’Keeffe’s 12 paintings, her intriguing Dark Iris No. 1 from the museum’s permanent collection is also on display. Many of these works are rarely seen, and are on loan from major museums and private collections. 

“Georgia O’Keeffe stands as one of the most endearing and famous artists of our time,” says Jim Raughton, Chair of the FAC’s Board of Trustees. “Her work shaped the image of the American Southwest, and we see her and her contemporaries as a perfect fit for us.”

Artists in the exhibition range from the pioneering generation to mid-century arrivals— modernists long associated with New Mexico as well as with WPA art programs of the 1930s. 

Complementing the exhibit will be more than 25 black-and-white photographs of O’Keeffe and her surroundings by famous Colorado Springs photographer, Myron Wood, taken during her time in Abiquiu. 

In celebration of this extraordinary event, the FAC has declared 2015 to be “The Year of Georgia O’Keeffe,” with multi-disciplinary programming that will explore American Modernism, the feminine voice in creativity, and environmental sensitivity.

O’Keeffe has long been considered the defining artist of the Southwest and one of America’s most famous female artists, but her evolution to this iconic state took a fascinating path.

She was always determined to make her way through life as an artist. While at the Art Institute of Chicago, she mastered the curriculum’s imitative realism approach, but felt hampered by the process. Discouraged and disheartened, she stopped painting. 

But four years later, during a summer art course for teachers, she was introduced to the then revolutionary ideas of artist and influential arts educator, Arthur Wesley Dow—that of creating harmonious images to fill space using line and color. It was an astonishing revelation that allowed her to experiment with her own ideas and feelings—to paint what she saw the way it appeared to her and made her feel. 

In 1916, O’Keeffe created a series of abstract charcoal drawings that are recognized as being among the most innovative art of the period. On a whim, she mailed them to a former Columbia classmate, who showed them to the famous photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, at the time he was becoming a revolutionary promoter of modern art. It was a life-changing moment for O’Keeffe.

Stieglitz was so taken with O’Keeffe’s drawings, that he put them on exhibit at his New York Gallery 291 without meeting her or getting her permission. He was also taken with O’Keeffe. When they finally met—she was 28, he was 52—it was the beginning of an epic love affair that stunned the art world. He had found his muse, and she was his willing subject.

With his encouragement and support, O’Keeffe’s fame and success as an artist grew. At the same time, their marriage began to deteriorate. With the discovery of Stieglitz’ infidelity, O’Keeffe embarked on summer sojourns to New Mexico to escape New York’s critical milieu and her husband’s deception. There, she became enamored of the Southwestern landscape and its famous light. Following Stieglitz’ death, she settled permanently in Abiquiu, where she came into her own with her still lifes and elemental paintings of flowers, sun-bleached bones and landscapes, which defined her life. She died in 1986 at the age of 98.

The exhibition can be called a kind of ode to those artists who brought the Southwest to life for the rest of us.