Flower Power: Georgia O’Keeffe’s Lasting Impact

Georgia O’Keeffe, Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, 1932, oil on canvas, 48 x 40 in., Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Ark. Photography by Edward C. Robison III

The Beyond: Georgia O’Keeffe and Contemporary Art, opening Saturday, Oct. 13, at the North Carolina Museum of Art, showcases the bright, airy work of O’Keeffe alongside works by 20 emerging artists who share themes from her modernist style.

The exhibition features 35 iconic works by O’Keeffe, including floral paintings, skyscrapers and desert landscapes. The pieces, which span her long career, demonstrate the artist’s revolutionary ways of visually interpreting the world.

“You can see the incredible impact she has had, not only on 20th-century art,” said Linda Dougherty, NCMA chief curator and curator of contemporary art. “When you think about her being a woman painting in the 1910s and 1920s, almost all of her peers and counterparts were men.  How radical and innovative her work was, to look at these young contemporary artists and see the impact that she has had long beyond her lifetime.”

This exhibition includes 50 contemporary pieces from artists including Louise Jones, Anna Valdez, Caroline Larsen and Britny Wainwright. Using a variety of media — photography, sculpture, painting and installation — they evoke and expand upon O’Keeffe’s artistic language.

“When you look at their work, you’ll see they’re exploring a lot of the same ideas and themes that O’Keeffe explored in her work decades earlier, and this is something that has lived on in their work,” said Dougherty.

O’Keeffe’s hallmarks — enormous flowers, luscious color, airy compositions, and clean forms that verge on abstraction — are seen anew through their influence on contemporary artists.

“The body of work most associated with O’Keeffe are her flowers,” said Lauren Applebaum, curatorial fellow in American art. “She said she didn’t want to paint flowers as you would see them, being very small, she wanted people to really notice them.”

The exhibit also highlights common themes including the human body, still lifes, skyscrapers, desert landscapes and the delicate interplay between realism and abstraction.

“It’s this idea of taking something small and ordinary that would so easily be overlooked if you painted it life-sized, and by making it monumental and really radically cropping the image, it completely changes your perspective,” said Dougherty.

The Beyond: Georgia O’Keeffe and Contemporary Art was organized by the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark. The NCMA is the second location where it will be shown, and at the end of January, the exhibit will travel to the New Britain Museum of American Art in Connecticut.

The show gets its title from a 1972 abstract painting of clouds that O’Keeffe produced toward the end of her long career, when her eyesight was failing.

“When I think about The Beyond, I think about what was ‘beyond’ for her at that point in her life, and also this idea that the impact she has made on art and the art world has lasted well beyond her lifetime,” said Dougherty.

The Beyond and a companion photography exhibit, Candida Hofer in Mexico, will remain through Jan. 20, 2019. Tickets, $12-$18, are required and include admission to both shows. For more information about the museum and its current installations, visit ncartmuseum.org.

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