Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai’i
May 19 – October 28, 2018, at the New York Botanical Gardens
In 1939, on the advice of the seminal N.W. Ayer advertising agency, the Hawaiian Pineapple Co. (aka Dole) commissioned Georgia O’Keeffe to create two paintings for a print campaign and funded a sojourn to Hawaii for the purpose. The yield was this display of twenty mainly small-scale works in the Art Library building at the NYBG—a few gems, a few tentative essais.
There is an unaffected, vaporous quality in O’Keeffe’s personal painting style overall that is convincingly autonomous and highly sensitive to the breathed air of places and moments that is captured in a few works here—close-up views of flowers for which she is best known, and two mountain waterfall scenes through clouds that, squinting, can morph into the v-shaped centers she repeated intermittently in her flora (a kind of inversion of Cezanne’s obsessive triangular Mont Ste. Victoire). An image of a twisted white bird-of-paradise betrays uncharacteristic modelling, suggesting the visual scrutiny she professed, even if she simplified drastically. But the show didn’t quite convey a major, “transformative experience” (press blurb) in her extraordinary oeuvre, considering she spent two months she there and that some of what’s on view was finished at home in New York; and the pineapple painting used for one ad was done entirely in her studio .
Still, this is an important and interesting show in more ways than one, including the commissioned circumstance —actually, the ad strategy of a fine arts angle was relatively new for the time and O’Keeffe had previous experience this sort of thing, as well as work as a graphic designer—adding to her proto-feminist acumen and exploits (I know, she would have winced … ). At the same time, in this large and spectacular environment of the NYBG, it was somewhat dwarfed and might have been supplemented with more art by O’Keeffe and/or others, in lieu of huge photographic blow-ups and the extent of the didactic material and information on the history of flora in Hawaii and O’Keeffe’s trip on walls and in vitrines.
The tie-in exhibit of Hawaiian plants, ceding with the extensive tropical collection in main Haupt Conservatory, is truly dazzling–not to be missed.