Tag Archives: modern painting

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Breezy Sojourn in Hawaii

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.

Georgia O’Keeffe, White Bird of Paradise, 1939 (Georgia O’Keeffe Museum; viewed at NYBG, 9/10/18).

Mad Munch at Met

Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed; at the Met Breuer, through February 4, 2018

“Between a rock and a hard place” would have been an equally apropos title for this copious display of swirling anxiety by the brooding, eternal modern screamer, Edvard Munch.  Trapped between old and new values and modes of existence, his oeuvre conveys tensions between the restrictive mores of an immediate Christian past and an intuitively and philosophically Bohemian worldview–inflected by pervasive illness as well (himself and those close to him).

The title painting, a late self-portrait, shows “the master” isolated in a monk-like studio (just his art and a bed are identifiable), presided by a sentinel-like, towering and seemingly ticking clock.

Indeed Munch’s art-book persona as depressive, gone-mad anti-hero and soul-bearing post-Impressionist is powerfully reinforced here.  His ability to ensnare viewers into his chaotic emotional orbit is considerable–even for those who will not identify with its central,  fraught protagonist.  His forthright  engagement with Freudian conflicts surrounding women and virility is at full force in a gallery of femmes fatales that burn with raw vulnerability.  Most compellingly haunting, however, are his writhing, perspectivally perilous views of Oslo from Ekeberg Hills and related, washy, windswept night scenes punctuated with ghostly figures.  Overall, his fluid, lightly muddied painting technique, along with the existential and psychological introversion of it all, strongly prefigures Abstract Expressionism.