Georgia O'Keeffe Exhibition Fails to Connect with Native American Culture at Phoenix's Heard Museum

Categories: Review, Visual Art

georgia-okeeffe-heard-museum-ghost-ranch.jpg
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.

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Heard Museum

2301 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, AZ

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5 comments
Daniel Troche
Daniel Troche

She wasnt a religious person at all. She just found the katsina dolls interesting and a subject for painting. Thats why those paintings dont have their proper names. Instead there are names like Blue Doll with Horns, Paul's Kachina and so on. Another fact to consider is that most if not all of the paintings on display were pieces she had never wanted the public to see. At the end of the day the gallery is a means of bringing in people who otherwise would not care for nor visit the museum.

Rain Descurainia Fulton
Rain Descurainia Fulton

o'keeffe obviously would fail to connect for one she's an immigrant settler and during the early 1900 most people had no way to understand indigenous mindframes even to the simplest, since many natives where not considered citizens by the settler mindset of that era, she would be less different? or even understand native philosophy? I assume she had no grasp on all the tribal languages surrounding the pueblo ancestral grounds... but deeming her affinity with the natural environment is her only connection to that which she found foreign to her mindframe as a immigrant settler to this land

Daniel Troche
Daniel Troche

The museum is trying to appeal to another demographic as well. It tries to bring fans of O' Keeffe in who might have never been aware or dont know much about Native American art/culture. The dolls in exhibition are there to give an explanation of which doll she painted because she didnt use the actual name of the doll. As far as the second floor goes, its based on the architecture and the land, the same as the title of the gallery. The paintings are set chronologically from 1929 to 1953. I hope this makes people understand the purpose of the gallery more.

Judy Adams
Judy Adams

I love her and am grateful for this exhibition. Katsina is pronounced like that. We now know the Hopi did not use a ch sound in their language.

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