LAWRENCE – Georgia O’Keeffe may be New Mexico’s iconic artist, but a new exhibition and book curated by a University of Kansas professor show that her works were not the first, or only art, to draw inspiration from the region.
“Eloquent Objects: Georgia O’Keeffe and Still-Life Art in New Mexico” brings together O’Keeffe and her contemporaries’ still-life paintings inspired by the rich cultural heritage of New Mexico. Charles Eldredge, the Hall Distinguished Professor of American Art and Culture, curated the show and wrote the accompanying publication. The exhibition and publication, organized by Joseph Czestochowski and produced by International Arts, premiered at the Indianapolis Museum of Art earlier this month.
“O’Keeffe is certainly the most prominent artist associated with New Mexico, and deservedly so, but she is scarcely the only one,” Eldredge said. “This is a purposeful effort to put O’Keeffe into context and to look at the broader community of still-life artists active in New Mexico during her time.”
Eldredge has a long history with O’Keeffe’s works, beginning with a dissertation in the 1960s. In the spring of 1970, Eldredge first met O’Keeffe in her home in New Mexico. In 1986, Eldredge, as director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, organized an exhibition on Taos and Santa Fe artists that prominently featured O’Keeffe. Later, he was one of five initial trustees on the Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation, which was responsible for her estate’s artworks and properties.
This is Eldredge’s third book on O’Keeffe. His first two books, like most studies on O’Keeffe, looked at the artist as an exceptional soloist. “Eloquent Objects” examines O’Keeffe’s work in connection to other artists in the first half of the 20th century who were similarly inspired by New Mexico’s landscapes, architecture and tricultural traditions of Hispanics, Native Americans and Anglos.
O’Keeffe spent her first summer in New Mexico in 1929 and settled there permanently in 1949.
“She was part of a parade that brought numerous artists to New Mexico, many of them for short visits. But others came and were captivated and spent a lifetime there,” Eldredge said.
For the past several years, Eldredge has searched for works to include in the exhibition, visiting museum attics and basements, private collections and dealer galleries. He found long-forgotten artists, such as Pedro Cervantez, who had shown in the Museum of Modern Art in the 1930s but fell out of favor with the rise of abstract expressionism.
“Some of these regional artists and regional centers of activity were overlooked and slighted by the New York School,” Eldredge said.
Another favorite for Eldredge is the work of Olive Rush, the first woman to base her career in Santa Fe. Today, she is recognized in the city for her mural work, but few outside of Santa Fe know of her.
The book and exhibition also include better-known artists who are not often associated with the Southwest. Among them is Marsden Hartley, best recognized for his depictions of Maine, and Stuart Davis, famous for his jazzy abstractions of metropolitan life.
“They were all part of a generation or more, which was described as ‘when New York went to New Mexico,’ taking leave of the eastern metropolis and exploring the most exotic precinct of the U.S.,” Eldredge said.
The exhibition features more than 50 works, ranging from the early 20th century to the 1950s. The 160-page accompanying publication, which includes an essay by Eldredge, has more than 78 color images. The book was designed by Santa Fe award-winning graphic designer David Skolkin. It features a major cover image by Georgia O’Keeffe from the Amon Carter Museum.
In the next year, the exhibition will travel from Indianapolis to the Tacoma Art Museum, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and the Art Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi. The accompanying book is available to purchase through International Arts.
Image credit: Cover: Georgia O’Keeffee (1887–1986). "Black Patio Door," 1955. Oil on canvas, 401⁄8 x 30 inches. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. (O’Keeffe 1283). Copyright 2014 Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Image Courtesy International Arts.