This major Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at MoMA showcases 120 works by the renowned artist

This major Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at MoMA showcases 120 works by the renowned artist

This major Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at MoMA showcases 120 works by the renowned artist

Back in 1915, Georgia O'Keeffe wrote a letter to a friend with this line: "Did you ever have something to say and feel as if the whole side of the wall wouldn't be big enough to say it on, and then sit down on the floor and try to get it on to a sheet of charcoal paper?" 

Now, more than a century later, the renowned American artist isn't just getting a sheet of paper or a wall to say what she wanted to; she's getting an entire gallery at Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art in a major new exhibition. "Georgia O’Keeffe: To See Takes Time" will be on view at MoMA from April 9 through August 12. 

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Featuring more than 120 works from 85 lenders, this sprawling show is the first to reunite O'Keeffe's works on paper made in series. It's also the first time MoMA has featured her work since 1946; at that time, the exhibition was the museum's first retrospective of a woman artist. 

"Georgia O’Keeffe: To See Takes Time" explores why the late artist worked in a series format and helps viewers understand the artist in a new way, exhibit curator Samantha Friedman said in a preview tour of the exhibition today.

Georgia O'Keeffe is an artist who is 'over-known but under-studied.'

Friedman describes O'Keeffe (1887-1986) as an artist who is "over-known but under-studied," adding that this exhibit "allows us to really focus on her process." Though O'Keeffe may be best known for her organic or biomorphic forms, this show reveals her work in abstraction and portraiture. The exhibition also shows how the artist experimented with different materials, such as charcoals and watercolors. 

Works are presented chronologically spanning five decades of the artist's career, with a special focus on her breakout years of 1915-1918. During that era, O'Keeffe marked some of the painting titles with the word "special," meaning she believed in the drawing's success. Her opinions were validated, as one reviewer in 1916 said the gallery "had never before seen a woman express herself so frankly on paper." 

Evening Star No.III, 1917
Photograph: The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Mr. and Mrs. Donald B. Straus Fund, 1958. © 2022 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New YorkEvening Star No.III, 1917

The stunning "Evening Star" series takes center stage at MoMA, showcasing O'Keeffe's 1917 documentation of a sunset in Texas told in eight panels, through distinct and fuzzy moments. 

"She's really taken with the palette that she experiences in Texas and the plains that she describes as being as wide as an ocean or feeling almost oceanic, which is an appropriate metaphor for works that are made with the aqueous medium of watercolor," Friedman explains.

From charcoal drawings of Appalachian tents to renderings of midtown Manhattan in 1932 to vibrant paintings of rivers, materials were key for O'Keeffe. She started out working only on paper but eventually moved to oil painting. She hand-blended pigments to produce gradations and rubbed charcoal off the paper's ribbed surface to indicate tonal variations. 

The museum presents a collection of the artist's drawing materials, including charcoal, graphite sticks, pastels, watercolors and brushes. They're arranged neatly and organized by color as if the spirit of artist herself could show up anytime and grab a brush.

Georgia O’Keeffe's art supplies
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan / Time Out

"She's an artist who is not using any paper, any medium by accident, but really thinking about what those materials will gain for her," Friedman says.

O'Keeffe's drawings are usually seen individually; presenting them in a series as the artist drew them offers an illuminating new take. Some works appear in a documentarian style while others suggest vivid abstraction. The show also features her work in portraiture, both her own nude self-portraits as well as portraits she created of her friends and fellow artists, some as accurate as photography and some blurry abstraction.

Georgia O’Keeffe. An Orchid, 1941
Photograph: Georgia O’Keeffe. An Orchid, 1941. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Bequest of Georgia O’Keeffe, 1990. © 2022 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

"She says, 'Nobody sees a flower. Really, we haven't time. To see takes time—like to have a friend takes time.' I think that when she's making these portraits of other people, she's recognizing that it takes time to understand another human, just like you can't capture a sunset in one shot. You can't understand the complexity of a person in a single image. She's taking time with seeing the people in those portraits just as she is with seeing a natural phenomenon."

To see this exhibit takes time, and it's time well spent.

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