The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
When artist Georgia O’Keeffe first visited Northern New Mexico in 1917, she was hooked, like so many
people who fall in the love with the landscape and its people. O’Keeffe returned to the region again and again, first buying a home
at Ghost Ranch, and later a hilltop house nearby, in Abiquiu. In 1949, three years after the death of her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, the
artist moved to the Land of Enchantment for good—to paint from her studio overlooking the dual winding ribbons of the road to Santa
Fe and the Chama River.
By then the nation's most renowned woman artist, O’Keeffe, 62, knew the risk she was taking by leaving New York,
the nexus of the art world. Her husband had been a celebrity in his own right, a pioneer of 20th-century photography and a gallery owner
who introduced America to modernism—as well as to O’Keeffe. Without him, without New York, without her longtime circle of friends
and patrons in the art world, what would happen to her career?
"Ram's Head, Blue Morning Glory" 1938
Oil on canvas, 20' x 30"
Promised Gift, The Burnett Foundation
What happened is, of course, the stuff of legend. O’Keeffe did not shrivel up in the desert; instead,
she flourished like the wild jimson weed she so often painted, inspired by the isolation and beauty of the natural environment surrounding
her. Her longtime residence in New Mexico inexorably identified her with this state in the American mind.
O’Keeffe died in Santa Fe in 1986, at the age of 98. But today her paintings draw others to northern New Mexico,
just as the region once called to her. In fact, since July 1997, when the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum opened in Santa Fe,
more than 1.3 million people have crossed its threshold, eager to see their favorite O’Keeffe paintings in person and learn more about
the iconic painter.
Dedicated to preserving O’Keeffe's artistic legacy and that of American Modernism to which her work is integral,
the Museum—in its first five years—has become the top site for visitors to Northern New Mexico. One reason is that a large number
of O’Keeffe works are always on display, in addition to other special exhibitions.
Museum director George G. King said that first-time visitors to the Museum
most appreciate the artist's giant close-ups of flower blossoms. No matter how many reproductions of these paintings one has seen,
it's something entirely different to examine O’Keeffe's giant flower canvases in person.
"They love the flowers. They love the landscapes. And they're surprised by her early abstractions," King
The Museum has 120 works by O’Keeffe—the largest number owned by any single institution—and owns another
60 works by other artists and photographers who have bearing on O’Keeffe's legacy. Many of the O’Keeffe artworks were donated
to the Museum. Twenty-four of them are promised gifts of The Burnett Foundation of Fort Worth, Texas, the family foundation of Anne Marion.
Marion and her husband, John, former chairman of the board of Sotheby's North America, were founders of the Museum.
This year, visitors to the Museum will find a new short video on O’Keeffe. And opening May 2, 2003
is Photographs by Alfred Stieglitz: Gifts from the Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation, an exhibit of 24 rare Stieglitz photographs the Foundation
donated to the Museum in honor of its fifth anniversary, in 2002. The Foundation, an entity separate from the Museum, was formed after
O’Keeffe's death to distribute her estate, including her own art collections. The photographs donated to the Museum were in O’Keeffe's
collection at the time of her death, treasured no doubt for their personal meaning and their artistic value. Many of the photographs, made
in the late teens and early 1920s, feature O’Keeffe along with her artworks.
The artistic dialogue between Stieglitz and O’Keeffe influenced both of them. In the years after she met Stieglitz
and other photographers, including Paul Strand, O’Keeffe's paintings show clear evidence of her appreciation for the image as
seen through the lens. Likewise, O’Keeffe influenced Stieglitz, especially as his subject. Many of his most powerful images feature
her. The Stieglitz exhibit will be on display through January 25, 2004
O’Keeffe's artistic affiliation with Stieglitz was only one small measure of her involvement with the development
of American Modernism. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum's mission includes not only addressing O’Keeffe's legacy, but also
examining the entire American Modernism movement, which began around 1890 and in some senses continues today. In just five years, through
exhibits such as Views of the City: 1910s–1940s and Eye of Modernism, the Museum has introduced the art public to the concepts of
and creativity exemplified by American Modernists.
Similarly, the Museum is dedicated to curating exhibits by living artists whose work has a similar aesthetic to O’Keeffe's.
The first of these, Anne Truitt: Sculpture, in 2000, featured painted wooden structures created by Truitt from the 1960s into the 1990s.
A similar exhibit featuring the paintings of Kenneth Noland is being developed. Another exhibit, set to open in February 2004, will feature
the photographs of O’Keeffe's friend Maria Chabot, who helped her restore the Abiquiu house. Moments in Time: Photographs of
Maria Chabot, 1941–1949 will be accompanied by publication of a UNM Press book by Barbara Buhler Lynes, The Correspondence of Maria
Chabot and Georgia O’Keeffe: 1941–1949.
Chabot, who died in Albuquerque in 2001, left her archive to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center. Other artists,
photographers, art historians, and estates have donated materials about O’Keeffe and her coterie to the Center. Each year, the Center
selects a small group of scholars from throughout the world as fellows for periods of three months to one year. The fellows, who are already
engaged in work that somehow intersects with O’Keeffe and American Modernism, have access to the Research Center's rare materials,
and during their fellowships offer public lectures and sometimes curate exhibits for the Museum as well.
Collaborations with other institutions have also enriched the offerings of the O’Keeffe Museum for the public. Perhaps
the most unusual of these was the initial collaboration of the Museum with the Museum of New Mexico Foundation, which supports state museums.
Through a shared admissions program during its first three years of existence, the O’Keeffe Museum generated and donated nearly $1.3
million to the O’Keeffe Endowment Fund, which supports exhibitions and acquisitions at the state's Museum of Fine Arts. The O’Keeffe
Museum also has collaborated on exhibits with the National Gallery of Art, the Milwaukee Museum, and the New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts,
and anticipates many more such cooperative efforts, said O’Keeffe Museum curator Barbara Buhler Lynes. The Museum's recent accreditation
by the American Association of Museums, just five years after the Museum opened, means that the Museum meets and operates by the highest
professional standards. Besides the opportunity to see outstanding exhibits, perhaps the most important impact of the Georgia O’Keeffe
Museum on the Santa Fe community has been its extensive and award-winning education program, directed by the inimitable Jackie M. The program
ranges from intensive, weeklong workshops such as the summer Girls Leadership Program to one-day events for families. All give the public
chances to learn more about O’Keeffe and art in general, and to make art, too. Programs are often free or cost little, and scholarships
ensure that children from low-income families get to participate alongside those of greater means. In addition, a Boys Leadership Program
was developed and successfully piloted last summer.
The presence of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum has added vitality and importance to Santa Fe's arts community in
many ways. King and Lynes are justifiably proud of their exhibitions and programs.
"We want people to continue to think of us as a place to visit in Santa Fe," Lynes noted. "And then, too,
we have the best gift shop and café in town."
Thanks to Hollis Walker and the Georgia O’Keeffe
Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe and Taos - Volume 17
RESOURCE LISTS UPDATED WHEN VIEWED | ARTICLE CONTENT REVISED
January 27, 2009