New Mexico, America’s fabled Land of Enchantment, has captivated the imagination of diverse peoples for more than five centuries. The stunningly beautiful landscape of contrasts—from mesas covered with piñon to snow-clad mountain peaks—forms a fitting background for the distinctive tricultural harmony of Hispanics, Native Americans, and Anglos who live and thrive there. Georgia O’Keeffe in particular experienced a creative epiphany in 1929 during her first summer in New Mexico. That initial sojourn not only resulted in the paintings of the high desert landscape for which she is well known, but it also inspired colorful still-life paintings, portraits of the cherished objects that filled her surroundings and served as souvenirs of a place that repeatedly sparked her creativity throughout a long and productive career.
Eloquent Objects: Georgia O’Keeffe and Still-Life Art in New Mexico is organized by Joseph S. Czestochowski and produced by International Arts®. The exhibition curator is Charles C. Eldredge, former director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and currently Hall Distinguished Professor of American Art at the University of Kansas. This exhibition and its accompanying publication seek to stimulate new reflections about the work of both O’Keeffe and those of her contemporaries who also created noteworthy still-life paintings inspired by New Mexico.
O’Keeffe clearly loved the Southwestern landscape, finding in it an ever-changing beauty and intimations of infinity. She treasured the quiet nobility of the region and the sense of timelessness it evoked. The inanimate objects with which she surrounded herself played a vital role in the way she expressed her own sensations of and emotional responses to New Mexico. From her earliest experiences there, she sought to convey some measure of the inexplicable forces she embraced in nature. Using flowers from her gardens, stark white bones and smooth river stones, and adobe courtyard walls with their gates, doors, and shadows, O’Keeffe dramatically refined those simple objects into something quite extraordinary. Her New Mexico still-life compositions, however, were not the first, nor were they the only, works inspired by the region.
Spanning more than five decades, Eloquent Objects features works by more than thirty artists who were drawn to New Mexico. Many of these painters traveled there in the early twentieth century and played a vital role in their art communities from the 1920s through the 1960s. Among them were modernists long associated with the state (Dasburg, Jonson, Higgins) as well as those who found inspiration during singular sojourns there (Hartley, Davis). These artists were not only influenced by O’Keeffe, but they also influenced her. This interchange generated the rich diversity of artistic expression that distinguished the region in those decades.
Painters who settled in Taos, Santa Fe, or throughout the state and artists visiting from elsewhere produced colorful images with objects and artifacts from New Mexico’s ancient land and culture. Among the true icons of enchantment evident in these paintings are Hopi kachinas, Navajo weavings, and ollas and other ceramics by Pueblo potters; santos, crucifixes, and ritual objects from skilled bulteros; books, furnishings, and domestic implements from Anglo households; sticks and stones and sun-bleached bones, the detritus of the desert; and flowers—beautiful blossoms indigenous to the Southwest found in the desert or gathered from gardens.
The exhibition features more than fifty works that range in date from the early twentieth century and the formation of the region’s art colonies to the 1950s. They were selected from a group of distinguished lenders, including: Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Chrysler Museum of Art, Crocker Museum, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Dallas Museum of Art, Denver Art Museum, El Paso Museum of Art, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Gerald Peters Gallery, Harwood Museum of Art, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Milwaukee Art Museum, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Norton Museum of Art, Orlando Museum of Art, Panhandle-Plains Museum, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia Museum of Art, San Diego Museum of Art, Spencer Museum–University of Kansas, University of New Mexico, Weisman Museum–University of Minnesota, and others.
The exhibition will be presented at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (October 30, 2014–February 15, 2015), the Tacoma Art Museum in Washington (March 1–June 7, 2015), Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (June 25–September 13, 2015), and the Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi (October 15, 2015–January 3, 2016).