The Museum of Modern Art announces Georgia O’Keeffe: To See Takes Time, the first exhibition to investigate the artist’s works on paper made in series. Using charcoal, watercolor, pastel, and graphite, she explored forms and phenomena—from abstract rhythms to nature’s cycles—across multiple examples.
Some of these sequences also gave rise to related paintings, which will be installed alongside these works on paper. On view in MoMA’s third-floor south galleries from April 9 through August 12, 2023, the exhibition reveals a lesser-known side of this artist, foregrounding O’Keeffe’s persistently modern process on paper.
Over 120 works created over more than four decades—including key examples from MoMA’s collection—demonstrate the ways in which O’Keeffe developed, repeated, and changed motifs that blur the boundary between observation and abstraction.
Seen together, these works demonstrate how drawing in series allowed O’Keeffe to revisit and rework subjects throughout her career, and reveal the thoughtful material choices behind her resplendent compositions.
The exhibition is organized by Samantha Friedman, Associate Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints, with Laura Neufeld, Associate Paper Conservator, The David Booth Conservation Department, and Emily Olek, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints. Realized with the participation of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe.
Though MoMA’s 1946 Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition was its first retrospective of a woman artist, the Museum has not had an exhibition devoted to the artist since. This exhibition is the first to reunite drawings that are most often seen individually, in order to illuminate O’Keeffe’s innovative serial practice.In the formative years of 1915 to 1918, O’Keeffe made more works on paper than she would at any other time, producing her breakthrough series of charcoals and sequences in watercolor of abstract lines, organic landscapes, and nudes. While her practice turned increasingly toward canvas after this period, important series on paper reappeared—including flowers of the 1930s, portraits of the 1940s, and aerial views of the 1950s—all of which are included in this exhibition.
“O’Keeffe’s works on paper are the perfect expression of her belief that ‘to see takes time,’”
says associate curator Samantha Friedman. “She recognized the necessity of slowing down for her own vision, and,in turn, her sequences of drawings invite us to take time in looking.”
Among the key works in the exhibition is the early charcoal No. 8 –Special (Drawing No. 8)(1916).
O’Keeffe called some of her works “specials,” indicating her belief in their success; this drawing features a spiraling composition that would recur throughout the artist’s decades-long career. She once noted of this work,
“I have made this drawing several times—never remembering that I had made it before—and not knowing where the idea came from,”
emphasizing the seriality of her practice.
Another highlight of the exhibition will be the first reunion of all eight watercolors in the Evening Star series (1917), whose luminous palette reflects O’Keeffe’s response to a Texas sky.
Together, these works express how the artist’s development of an idea across multiple sheets mirrors the shifting forms and movement of nature itself. Tracing the course of a dramatic sunset, O’Keeffe transitions from discrete bands of color separated by areas of blank paper to fully bled areas of liquid pigment.Drawing X (1959), made the year O’Keeffe took a three-month trip around the world, was inspired by the views of the landscape she witnessed from a plane.
One in a series of such charcoals that also led to subjectively colored paintings, this work offers a key example of the complex and subtle relationship between representation and abstraction within the artist’s project.
Georgia O’Keeffe: To See Takes Time is on view until August 12, 2023 at The Museum of Modern Art located at 11 West 53rd Street in New York City.
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