MoMA to Display Rarely Seen Works on Paper by Georgia O’Keeffe –

Perhaps it’s her ubiquity in the American Southwest imagination that makes people forget there’s more to learn about Georgia O’Keeffe. The patron saint of nature’s sickly, sensual side, O’Keeffe created some of the most iconic paintings of the last century. However, a new exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art will shed light on how these canvases owe a debt to a Darwinian investigation that began long before them on paper.

Opening next April, Georgia O’Keeffe: To See Takes Time will bring together more than 120 rarely shown works on paper, showing how the artist used charcoal, watercolor, pastel and graphite to rethink organic forms and to process. It will be the first museum exhibition to explore O’Keeffe’s serial process and, incredibly, the first dedicated exhibition at MoMA since 1946. Several of O’Keeffe’s paintings related to the drawings will also be on display .

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“O’Keeffe is a very popular and often under-understood artist,” said Samantha Friedman, the exhibition’s curator ARTnews in a phone interview. “I included a charcoal drawing from O’Keeffe’s in ours [2020] Show ‘Degree Zero’ and people were shocked to learn it was hers. It wasn’t what she expected from this artist’s work.”

A painter of lush close-ups of flowers and rugged mountains, O’Keeffe began her career as an artist with charcoal drawings. In 1915, while working as an art teacher, long before she became famous, she began drawing sinuous and sinuous tendrils of charcoal across several sheets of paper. The result indicated waves of water, smoke, or primordial soup. She called the series “Specials.”

A friend of hers took the drawings to photographer and influential gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz (her future husband), who described them as the “purest, finest, most sincere things” to come into his house in a number of years. He exhibited her without her knowledge, which first infuriated her – and then made her famous.

O’Keeffe produced most of her work on paper from 1915 to 1918. By the 1930s, O’Keeffe was known for her painted studies of nature, most of which capture static extremes such as blooming flowers or animal skulls bleached by time. “Nature doesn’t happen in an instant, however,” Friedman said.

In her wealth of correspondence, O’Keeffe described the cheerful “recklessness” of paper compared to canvas, where consequences carry weight. Paper was the place to develop motifs and search for the essence of their subjects. Sometimes she drew clear bands of watercolor to see the pigments blend into the fleeting gradients of color on the horizon.

“How can you show the course of a sunset on a single sheet? You need several to see it rise and fall,” Friedman added.

Georgia O'Keeffe,

Georgia O’Keeffe, “Drawing X”, 1959.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (by exchange), 1972 © 2022 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The key works in the exhibition include #8 – Special (Drawing #8), from 1916, which resembles an inky black typhoon; a reunion of luminous watercolors from her 1917 series with Answers to the Texas Sky; and Drawing X (1959), created the year O’Keeffe embarked on a three-month trip around the world, is inspired by her view from an airplane window. Here the boundaries between concreteness and abstraction blur in a spectacular way – the entire landscape is distilled into two wandering lines.

Georgia O’Keeffe: To See Takes Time runs April 9 through August 12, 2023 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

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