Georgia O'Keeffe Exhibition Fails to Connect with Native American Culture at Phoenix's Heard Museum
|Gift of Jerome M. Westheimer, Sr. © Georgia O'Keeffe Museum|
|Georgia O'Keeffe's Ghost Ranch Landscape (c. 1936) is oil on canvas and 12-by-30 inches.|
The first floor also includes a small selection of modern riffs on katsina tithu by Sakiestewa and Tewa-Hopi artist Dan Namingha. Sakiestewa's wool tapestries and drawings nicely echo O'Keeffe's movements toward the nonrepresentational, but the artwork of both artists is placed around the room seemingly at random, making associations between these pieces and O'Keeffe's work tenuous (not unlike the connections with the katsina dolls themselves).
Though I was happy to see representations of katsina tithu created by Native American artists, these pieces didn't feel fully integrated into the exhibition. Instead, they only break up the timeline of O'Keeffe's life that serves as the guiding organizational structure in the exhibition.
The work on the second floor, which addresses the remaining two themes of architecture and the land, is much more straightforward, but the connection to Native culture is dropped almost completely. Ascending the stairs is like walking into a completely new exhibition that hardly belongs in the Heard Museum at all.
Still, some of my favorite work was located in this portion of the show. In Rust Red Hills (1930), O'Keeffe makes use of lush purples and burgundies to capture a set of rolling hills in New Mexico. In Ghost Ranch Landscape (1936), her brushwork takes what would be a fairly typical desert landscape painting to a completely different level.
In a different context, this show might get a five-star review, but the Heard's mission to showcase O'Keeffe's ties to native culture fell short, ultimately causing the exhibition as a whole to come across as disjointed and difficult to follow. If you do go to see the exhibition, make some time to take a look at the show catalog to gain some much-needed perspective on how O'Keeffe's work fits in with Southwest modernist traditions and representations of native culture.
"Georgia O'Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture, Katsinam, and the Land" is on view through Monday, March 3, at Heard Museum.