Although influenced by European tendencies, American modernism had a development of its own, with one of the leading proponents being a woman. Her name was Georgia O’Keeffe and throughout the incredibly lasting career, she created an impeccable body of work that was at the same time formally and conceptually rounded. By the 1920s, she was recognized as a pioneer of abstraction in modern American art, and her works became the subject of numerous interpretations as she exhibited across the country and abroad.
To trace back the artist’s astounding and almost eight-decades-long trajectory, the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza will present a traveling exhibition and the first retrospective of Georgia O’Keeffe in Spain with a selection of around 90 works and among them five paintings owned by the museum.
The visitors will have a chance to take a close look at Georgia O'Keeffe’s oeuvre in a chronologically and thematically framed survey by experiencing exuberant masterpieces and understanding her artistic vision.
The curator of the Department of Modern Painting at the Museo Thyssen, Marta Ruiz del Árbol, tends to present Georgia O’Keeffe as a traveling/walking artist; moving from one place to another whether by crossing the ocean or just by walking infused her immensely.
O’Keeffe traveled constantly across the United States and later in her life she visited every continent. The artist first discovered the beauty of the American landscape, from the plains and canyons of Texas over the urban scenes depicting the rapid change in Manhattan to Lake George in New York State and the spectacular rock formations of the country’s Southwest. Walking was the artist’s daily routine during which she used to collect different objects found in nature such as leaves, flowers, shells, pieces of wood, and bones which ultimately became the subjects of her paintings.
The opening sequence of the upcoming retrospective will feature O’Keeffe’s early works that made quite a fuss on the New York art scene after they were shown for the first time at the 291 Gallery in 1916. This early period was marked by the artist’s mastery of the technique of watercolor, an interest in nature and the appeal of the horizon line that was elaborated further in the years to come.
The second exhibition room will feature paintings produced by O’Keeffe after she left her teaching post in Texas, moved to New York in 1918, and committed fully to painting. These organic abstractions show an interest in relationships between form and color that made her the most prominent proponent of pictorial abstraction.
From the end of the second decade of the 20th century, O’Keeffe spent her time in the city and the countryside and has depicted the seasonal contrasts in New York and at Lake George. These works, as well as cityscapes the artist captured from a modern skyscraper in which she lived at the time with Alfred Stieglitz, will be presented in the third room.
The fourth and the central room will include O’Keeffe’s iconic flower paintings featuring irises, poppies, Jimson weed, and arum lilies alongside other natural objects such as leaves and shells.
The following room will feature the selection of paintings the artist made during the first trips to New Mexico, starting from 1929 when she traveled to the northern part of this territory and felt inspired by the landscape, the Native American culture, and the region’s Spanish colonial past.
The sixth room will host works made throughout the next two decades while O’Keeffe spent the summers in her adobe house in Ghost Ranch, a desert area that she had discovered in 1934; during those years, the artist also made a series of paintings of pelvis bones.
The seventh room will host a selection of late work, primarily the series made in the yard of the hacienda that she purchased in the small village of Abiquiú in 1945, a couple of years before she moved to New Mexico for good in 1949. Between 1953 to 1954, the artist visited Spain for the first time and started traveling around the globe, and this room will include several canvases inspired by those numerous trips abroad.
The last room will feature five canvases by the artist in the Thyssen-Bornemisza collections that show the mastery of her technique and the way she executed it in her studio, as well as a selection of O’Keeffe’s personal objects from the studio. These works are the result of close observations undertaken by the multi-disciplinary team of restorers, curators, and chemists from both the Spanish museum and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.
This exhibition will give the visitors a one-of-a-kind opportunity to discover the work of this magnificent artist who is little represented outside the United States. It was organized in collaboration with numerous international museums and collections, with most artifacts loaned by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.
Georgia O'Keeffe will be on display at The Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid from 20 April to 8 August 2021. Afterward, it will travel to the Centre Pompidou in Paris and then to the Fondation Beyeler in Basel.
Featured image: Georgia O'Keeffe - Paisaje de Black Mesa, Nuevo México / Desde la casa de Marie II, 1930 (Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico / Out Back of Marie’s II). Oil on canvas. 61,6 x 92,1 cm. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe. Gift of the Burnett Foundation © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Photo: Courtesy of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum; Desde las llanuras II, 1954 (From the Plains II). Oil on canvas. 122 x 183 cm Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.