Discover the artist’s rarely seen works from Hawai‘i—reunited in New York for the first time since 1940—and the plants and flowers that inspired them.
Bringing together 20 of Georgia O’Keeffe’s little-known depictions of Hawai‘i from a nine-week sojourn in 1939 while on commission to produce images for a Hawaiian Pineapple Company promotional campaign, this exhibition offers a new perspective on the pioneering American modernist. A lush flower show in the Haupt Conservatory explores the remarkable beauty and variety of Hawaiian flora—as well as its complex botanical and cultural history. A stunning exhibition in the Art Gallery—featuring O’Keeffe’s Hawai‘i paintings and other works—spotlights a transformative experience in the legendary artist’s life. Like many of her well-known paintings, from stark New Mexican landscapes to New York cityscapes, O’Keeffe’s dramatic Hawaiian imagery conveys a distinct sense of place with lava-studded beaches and towering waterfalls as well as close-ups of the exotic tropical flowers that she encountered.
Georgia O’Keeffe is celebrated as one of the most important American artists of the twentieth century, and her distinguished career, lasting more than seventy years, was characterized by a thoroughgoing embrace of nature and its forms. Here at The New York Botanical Garden, we have long believed that O’Keeffe’s love of nature would lend itself perfectly to our special brand of exhibitions that seek to explore the affinities between the arts and the sciences. The seldom studied body of work O’Keeffe produced during her nine weeks in Hawai‘i in 1939 offers an exciting opportunity to tell the story of one of this country’s quintessential artists alongside a compelling, and increasingly urgent, story about conservation. Disturbingly, the Hawaiian archipelago is sometimes referred to as the world capital of extinction. From May 19 through October 28, 2018, NYBG presents Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai‘i, the first New York exhibition to bring together most of the artist’s Hawai‘i pictures since their 1940 debut at An American Place, Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery. The focus is on O’Keeffe’s absorption of the physical beauty and plant life of the Islands and what the paintings reveal (or obscure) about the complex environmental history of this unique locality.
Accompanying the works of art on view in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s Art Gallery is a flower show in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory that transports visitors to a lush paradise filled with colorful tropical plants typical of the gardens O’Keeffe would have encountered as she traveled among 0‘ahu, Maui, Kaua‘i, and the Big Island of Hawai‘i. A rich suite of programming for visitors of all ages complements the exhibition, including a poetry walk and poetry readings, film screenings, themed weekends, and live performances of traditional Hawaiian music and dance.
For their important contributions to the preparation of the exhibition, I wish to thank Theresa Papanikolas, PhD, guest curator; Francisca Coelho, designer of the flower show in the Conservatory; Scott Pask, designer of the Conservatory sets; Alice Quinn, Executive Director of the Poetry Society of America, the Garden’s longtime partner in presenting themed poetry walks and readings in conjunction with special exhibitions; and our collaborators at Hawai‘i Tourism United States for their contributions to exhibition programming. I also thank the exhibition lenders: Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe; Honolulu Museum of Art; Baltimore Museum of Art; Brooklyn Museum; Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Tennessee; Muscatine Art Center, Iowa; James M. Rosenfield; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; Sharon Twigg-Smith; and private collectors. The art exhibition will travel to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, and I am grateful for the museum’s support of the project.
This landmark exhibition would not have been possible without the generosity of our major funders, including the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Gillian and Robert Steel. We thank the Wyeth Foundation for American Art for its support of this exhibition catalog. The New York Botanical Garden is uniquely positioned to organize an exhibition featuring O’Keeffe’s art and the ecological history of the Hawaiian Islands it depicts. We hope you will immerse yourself in this little-known story of an artist whose work has been so important in defining American art and the American landscape and come away inspired by a new perspective on her fascinating oeuvre.
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The New York Botanical Garden