An exhibition invites you to make your own connections between O’Keeffe and 20 contemporary artists.
Gallery view, North Carolina Museum of Art, foreground: sculpture by Molly Larkey (2017), steel linen and paint (photo by James C. Williams, 2018)
RALEIGH, NC — An exhibition on Georgia O’Keeffe at the North Carolina Museum of Art turns viewers into curators as you are invited to make comparisons and explore how this influential artist has impressed future generations. If you saw 2017’s soulful show organized by the Brooklyn Museum that featured O’Keeffe’s handmade garments and personal items alongside her paintings, think of the Raleigh show, titled The Beyond: Georgia O’Keeffe and Contemporary Art, as a continuum. In the Brooklyn Museum exhibition, O’Keeffe felt eerily present, whereas here, the modernist’s works provide a construct to understand the 20 diverse artists exhibiting with her.
“Cities and Deserts,” gallery installation, North Carolina Museum of Art, O’Keeffe with Sharona Eliassaf (photo by James C. Williams, 2018)
Rooms are curated by O’Keeffe’s themes — “Flowers,” “Finding the Figure,” “The Intangible Thing,” “Still Life,” “Cities and Deserts,” and “The Beyond” — but don’t expect on-the-nose comparisons. Sometimes, you gain immediate insight into a common visual language. Other times, pairings might initially leave you scratching your head, but give yourself time to scratch the surface instead. It might take several passes around the gallery before you discover connections that are all the more rewarding when you uncover them.
The museum explains that the artists were “selected for their individual approaches to O’Keeffe’s powerful themes” as well as “the interplay between realism and abstraction.” Focus is sacrificed for variety here, and whether all of these artists’ influence can be traced directly to O’Keeffe is debatable (more than one artist’s approach reminded me more of Paul Gauguin). But when the works clearly relate to O’Keeffe, they are well worth seeking out.
Due to the fragile nature of her early watercolors, “Woman with Apron” is the only figurative work by O’Keeffe on display. Her loose, rounded shapes of color are echoed in Matthew Ronay’s playful sculpture and the mixed media works of Tschabalala Self. The exposed genitalia of Self’s figures bring to mind the stereotype about O’Keeffe’s flowers — a comparison that O’Keeffe always denied.
One of the strongest pairings is O’Keeffe’s “Abstraction Blue,” a composition bisected by a line of light, beside Pearl C. Hsiung’s dynamic painting construction of abstracted trees flanking a vertical sunset. This repetition of a central line, the cool color palette, and the shared abstraction of nature firmly unify these two works……………