Thursday, February 26, 2015
Georgia O’Keefe and Still Life Art in New Mexico
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Feb. 26, 2015
I can hardly wait to see “Eloquent Objects: Georgia O’Keeffe and Still-Life Art in New Mexico” at Tacoma Art Museum. As a matter of fact, I won’t wait; I’ll preview it now instead of writing my regular review column, and then I will review it for the March 12 Weekly Volcano.
Twenty-two Georgia O’Keeffe paintings will be shown alongside 42 additional works by her New Mexico contemporaries. That alone should be enough to make you mark this show in your calendar.
O’Keeffe escaped New York to live and work in the desert near Taos, and many of her fellow artists followed suit. From the 1920s to the 1950s New Mexico was to New York artists what Tahiti had been to Gauguin—a place of refuge, retreat and inspiration. Many of these artists are in this show, artists such as Stuart Davis and Marsden Hartley, and artists from each of the major art centers in New Mexico, including Gustave Baumann, Catherine Critcher, Eliseo Rodriguez and more.
"Eloquent Objects takes a different look at the American Southwest through still-life paintings. If asked to describe an image that symbolized New Mexico, most people would likely talk about a landscape or the vibrant cultures of the area,” says Margaret Bullock, TAM’s Curator of Collections and Special Exhibitions. “The paintings in this exhibition instead focus on objects. They ask us to pause and think about how the things that interest us or surround us in our daily lives reveal something about us and the place and time we live in. These are deeply personal images.”
I have not yet seen this show, but TAM included a few images with their press release, among which are the oil paintings “Yellow Cactus” and “Mule's Skull with Pink Poinsettia” by O’Keeffe. Both are large paintings in a typical O’Keeffe style. She is famous for pictures of a single giant flower that takes up the entire canvas and emphasizes the similarities between flowers and female sex organs. “Yellow Cactus” pictures two such flowers in yellow on a soft blue background. It is sensual and lyrical and practically invites the viewer to sniff it up close. “Mule's Skull with Pink Poinsettia” features another still life item that O’Keeffe painted frequently, an animal skull, and two delicate flowers floating in air above sand dunes that emulate the sensual curves of a human body, as do the white clouds in the blue sky.
Also pictured is Alexandre Hogue’s oil painting “Studio Corner-Taos.” This painting from 1927 looks like it could have been painted today. In fact, it looks like one of Phillip Pearlstein’s paintings of figures in interiors with intricately patterned rugs and other objects, only minus the figure. It is an Indian blanket draped over a blue chair with a rattle and dolls on the floor. This painting is colorful and beautifully designed.
Dorothy Morang’s “Garden of Eden” from 1937 is a striking abstract painting in gorgeous tones or orange and blue, and Maurice Sterne’s painting of peppers on a chair looks like a Cezanne painting.
The painters of this era in America were deeply influenced by Cezanne, Picasso, and the French modernists who came along in an earlier time but many of whom were still working. Americans like O’Keefe and the others who went to New Mexico took these influences and Americanized them.
This show should provide an exciting and in-depth look at a lot of major art from the first half of the 20th century. It is a national touring show and TAM is its only West Coast stop.
Eloquent Objects: Georgia O’Keeffe and Still-Life Art in New Mexico, Tue.-Sun. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Third Thursday 10 a.m. to –8 p.m., $12-$14, Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave. Tacoma, http://www.tacomaartmuseum.org/