While in downtown Santa Fe, I visited the small yet well put together Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.
Georgia O’Keeffe is often described as the “mother of American Modernism” as she was an important 20th century American artist. Best remembered for her abstract oil paintings of flowers and animal skulls, her works encompassed far more: charcoal drawings, watercolors, paintings from her extensive travels, sculpture — and even an unpublished cookbook.
Let’s back up a moment. O’Keeffe lived the latter years of her life in New Mexico, but that’s not where she started out. To give a brief recap, she grew up on a farm, eventually got into prestigious art schools, became a high school art teacher, and had an affair with the (older, married) photographer who discovered her and made her famous. They eventually got married.
Again, this wasn’t that long ago so it was all tabloid “news” at the time.
Another tabloid scandal? O’Keeffe’s flower paintings were described as looking like female genitalia, a claim she categorically denied and blamed on male gaze.
Normally I’m not a big fan of single-artist museums. To me a museum shouldn’t just be about bringing art to the masses, it should put the art in context and look at it critically. The thing about the O’Keeffe Museum is that it doesn’t have the luxury of time to sand away the rough parts of her life — there are still people alive today who knew her, some of which speak on the museum’s audio guide.
The most interesting thing about the museum to me was seeing some of the works that don’t easily fit into O’Keeffe’s periods of well known works, such as the painting she made of Mount Fuji above while she was visiting Japan. It’s somehow both recognizable as an O’Keeffe, and yet if you tried to sell me this on the street I’m not sure I’d believe you.
My recommendation: This small museum punches far above its weight with well put together presentations and an audio guide (download the free app on your phone.) Price is very reasonable, if you’re interested in this era of American art I highly recommend it.