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

Perhaps it’s her ubiquity in the imagination of the American Southwest that makes people forget that there’s more to Georgia O’Keeffe to learn. Patron of the sickly, sensual side of nature, O’Keeffe has created some of the most iconic paintings of the past century. A new exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, however, will shed light on how these canvases are indebted to a Darwinian investigation she began long before on paper.

Opening next April, “Georgia O’Keeffe: To See Takes Time” will bring together more than 120 rarely seen works on paper that show how the artist used charcoal, watercolour, pastel and graphite to revisit and riff on organic forms. This will be the first museum exhibition to explore O’Keeffe’s serial process and, unbelievably, the first exhibition dedicated to him 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 beloved and often not sufficiently understood artist,” said Samantha Friedman, the exhibition’s curator. ART news in a telephone interview. “I have included a charcoal drawing of O’Keeffe in our [2020] show “Degree Zero,” and people were shocked to learn it was his. This did not correspond to their expectation of the work of this artist.

O’Keeffe, a painter of lush close-up flowers and rugged mountains, first began his career as an artist by making charcoal drawings. In 1915, while working as an art teacher, long before she became famous, she began sweeping and bending tendrils of charcoal across several sheets of paper. The result suggested ripples of water, smoke, or primordial soup. She dubbed the series “Specials”.

A friend of hers took the drawings to influential photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz (her future husband), who called them “the purest, finest and most sincere things” that had come to his establishment in several years. He exposes them without her knowledge, which makes her first furious, then famous.

O’Keeffe produced most of her works on paper from 1915 to 1918. By the 1930s, O’Keeffe was renowned for her painted studies of the natural world, most of which captured static extremes, such as blooming flowers or skulls of animals bleached by time. However, “nature doesn’t happen in an instant,” Friedman said.

In his rich correspondence, O’Keeffe described the joyous “recklessness” of paper versus canvas, where consequences carry weight. The paper was the place to develop patterns and search for the essence of his subjects. Sometimes she would swipe distinct strips of watercolor to watch the pigments bleed into the kind of fleeting gradients found on the horizon.

“How can you trace the course of a sunset on a single leaf? It takes several to see it go up and down,” Friedman added.

Georgia O'Keeffe, 'Drawing X', 1959.

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

Among the highlights of the exhibition are No. 8 – Special (Design No. 8), from 1916, which looks like an ink typhoon; a reunion of bright watercolors from his 1917 Texas Sky Responses series; and Drawing X (1959), premiered the year O’Keeffe took a three-month trip around the world and was inspired by his view from the airplane window. Here the boundary between representation and abstraction blurs dramatically – the whole landscape has been distilled into two wandering lines.

“Georgia O’Keeffe: To See Takes Time” will run from April 9 to August 12, 2023 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

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