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Georgia O'Keeffe's Visions of Hawai'i. At the New York Botanical Garden

  • Georgia O'Keeffe - Waterfall No 1 (detail)
May 27, 2018
A philosophy graduate interested in theory, politics and art. Alias of Jelena Martinović.

In a compelling body of work featuring depictions of flowers, barren landscapes and close-up still lifes, Georgia O’Keeffe encapsulated the emotion and power of modern abstraction.

Following the fame that surrounded her controversial flower paintings, the artist was invited by Dole Pineapple Company to Hawaii in 1939 to create paintings for the island’s advertising campaign. After visiting Maui, Oahu, Hawaii, and Kauai, she created around twenty canvases of the rich nature of the archipelago depicting dramatic gorges, waterfalls, and tropical flowers.

A selection of these works is currently on view at the New York Botanical Garden in an exhibition that evokes the Hawaiian gardens and landscapes that inspired her. Title Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai’i, Exploring the Artist’s Immersion in the Hawaiian Islands in 1939, the show brings together more than 15 paintings that have not been seen together in New York since their 1940 debut.

Untitled Bridge graphite, Waterfall No 1
Left: Georgia O’Keeffe – Untitled (Black Lava Bridge), 1939. Graphite on paper, 8. x 6 in. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation, 2006.05.158 © 2018 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Right: Georgia O’Keeffe – Waterfall, No. 1, ‘Īao Valley, Maui, 1939. Oil on canvas, 19⅛ x 16 in. Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Gift of Art Today (76.7) © 2018 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Georgia O’Keeffe and her Hawai’i Paintings

The subject of flowers and plans is the one Georgia O’Keeffe often engaged with throughout her career. These iconic images are still celebrated for their bold use of color, form and scale.

Lesser known than the rest of her oeuvre, the paintings she produced during her time spent in Hawai’i are imbued with the same poetic sensibility.Deeply appreciating the beauty of the Islands, she used her familiar compositional technique to produce stunning images of this idealized tropical paradise.

Although having a perspective of a visitor, her images masterfully depict the Islands’ unique natural settings and serve as a compelling starting point to examine the transformation of the Hawaiian landscape through human and cultural influences.

Georgia O’Keeffe - Black Lava Bridge, Heliconia, 1939
Left: Georgia O’Keeffe – Black Lava Bridge, Hāna Coast, No. 1, 1939. Oil on canvas, 24 x 20 in. Honolulu Museum of Art, Gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation, 1994 / Right: Georgia O’Keeffe – Heliconia, Crab’s Claw Ginger, 1939. Oil on canvas, 19 x 16 in. Collection of Sharon Twigg-Smith © 2018 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Exhibition Highlights

Designed by set designer Scott Pask, the display in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory features the remarkable beauty and richness of Hawai‘i’s wild and cultivated flora, highlighting the profound importance of plants in the Island’s art and culture, but also threats native Hawaiian plants are facing.

The highlight of the display is a colorful tropical garden of plants such as those that O’Keeffe encountered, including the dazzling flowers of ti, frangipani, bougainvillea, heliconia, hibiscus, bird of paradise, ginger, and many more tropical favorites.

On view at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Art Gallery, the exhibition of O’Keeffe’s paintings created in Hawaii charts a transformative time in the legendary artist’s life. The display includes paintings of rich Hawaiian flora, such as Heliconia—Crab’s Claw Ginger and Pineapple Bud, as well as a collection of landscape paintings that depict Maui’s interior ‘lao Valley and lava-studded shorelines.

Georgia O’Keeffe - Hibiscus with Plumeria Pineapple Bud, 1939
Left: Georgia O’Keeffe – Hibiscus with Plumeria, 1939. Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Sam Rose and Julie Walters, 2004.30.6 © 2018 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Right: Georgia O’Keeffe – Pineapple Bud, 1939. Oil on canvas, 19 x 16 in. Private collection © 2018 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Georgia O’Keeffe at the New York Botanical Garden

The exhibition Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai‘i is on view at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Art Gallery of the New York Botanical Garden until October 28th, 2018.

The exhibition is accompanied by a rich program of performances, events, and activities throughout the Garden, celebrating the diverse cultural traditions of Hawai’i past and present and the richness of its flora.

A specially created Interactive Mobile Guide will complement the exhibition by transporting users to both the current Hawaiian landscape and back in time to the Hawai‘i that O’Keeffe visited in 1939.

  Editors’ Tip: Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai’i

In 1939, Georgia O’Keeffe, who was among the most famous artists in the United States, accepted a commission from the Hawaiian Pineapple Company to produce two paintings for advertising campaigns. Her nine-week trip to Hawai’i resulted in more than 20 paintings, which reveal that O’Keeffe–most commonly associated with the stark deserts of New Mexico–was profoundly inspired by what she saw and experienced on the lush, tropical Hawaiian Islands. The exhibition Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai’i, and this accompanying volume, explores this little-known chapter in the artist’s career. Glowing with color, these paintings demonstrate O’Keeffe’s unique ability to make any place her own. This landmark volume offers a unique perspective by foregrounding the ecological complexity that is hidden behind O’Keeffe’s depictions of Hawai’i-one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth. Published in association with The New York Botanical Garden.

Featured image: Georgia O’Keeffe – Waterfall, No. 1, ‘Īao Valley, Maui (detail), 1939. All images courtesy of New York Botanical Gardens.