Sunday, February 8, 2015

Georgia O’Keefe at The Indianapolis Museum of Art

An enlightening exhibition at an institution 
that’s a work of art inside and out

     Georgia O’Keeffe and the Southwestern Still Life at The Indianapolis Museum of Art runs through February 15 and it’s well worth the trip.  Consisting of about 80 examples of those artists that worked in Taos and northern New Mexico from right after World War I through the 1950s, the exhibition is very well curated.  Walking into the
first room, viewers see photographs and read about the development of that artists’ community.  Much of it was due to Mabel Dodge Luhan, who encouraged and generously supported emerging artists to visit and work.

Hopi Katzinas by Gustave Baumann
     Marsden Hartley, Stuart Davis, Victor Higgins, and other major as well as obscure artists are represented.  Paintings with similar subjects, or paintings in similar styles are placed next to one another, which is a smart way to generate conversation about theme, style, and technique without being saddled with a lot of art history terms.  What emerges is the pre-eminence of O’Keeffe.   She possessed such a strong ‘voice’, whereby a viewer knows it’s her work from twenty feet away.  She really was one of the greatest American artists of the 20th century.  

Black Door with Red, Georgia O'Keefe
     The other revelation from this exhibition (many of them from the museum’s collection) is how O’Keeffe could move from New York to New Mexico, but she maintained an artistic dialogue with what was happening there.  Her late 1940s and 1950s work shows completely stripped down shapes set against almost monochromatic backgrounds.  It straddles the New York Abstract Expressionists and the Pop artists.  Earlier, in the 1920s, she completed works that could have been painted by a 1960s or 1970s Photo Realist.  

Jimson Weed, Georgia O'Keefe
    The images she’s most famous for (and which appear on countless calendars) are the large-scale flowers and landscapes with simplified lines and strips of color set against each other.  The Art History term for this is Minimalism, though it’s usually applied to a group of artists working in the ‘60s – ‘80s.  Seeing them up close is almost like being slapped by their hue and intensity.  The exhibition is worth seeing for these alone; 80 works is a good number because a viewer can move through it without being overwhelmed.

Spanning the Four Floors of IMA is
Robert Irwin's Light and Space III
Contemporary Design
     Elsewhere in this four story building is a tremendous collection of furniture and accessories from 1945 – today.  As the guard assured us going in, “Some of this may look like your furniture at home just don’t be surprised.”  He was right, but most of us don’t have an opportunity to own these originals; rather, they’ve influenced what’s available at stores like IKEA or Value City or Target.  That’s why they’re important and they’re from all over the world.  Yes, Italians led the way – no surprise there – but there are examples of American, Japanese, French, Dutch, Scandinavian, and British designers as well.  There’s a range of probable comfort, usability, affordability, and historical aesthetics involved and they provoked a lot of conversation from patrons.  

Fortune Suite of Contemporary Art
     The gallery of contemporary sculpture displayed some jaw-dropping pieces, some of which begged to be touched.  They required (and received) close attention by the guards.  A friendly docent started a conversation and gave us an impromptu tour of Art Nouveau pieces.  She then shared upcoming exhibits we might like.  The museum shop is as large and extensive as those at the Chicago Art Institute and MOMA.

Indianapolis Museum of Art
     On top of that, the building itself (completed in 1970, according to a staff member, though the front was updated in the early 2000s) refers, I think, to Frank Lloyd Wright’s career.  Part of it looks like the original Guggenheim Museum, another like the Tokyo Imperial Hotel destroyed by earthquake, and another to the Prairie style Wright developed in the first decade of the 20th century.  The outdoor sculptures and gardens were impressive, but are probably spectacular in the summer.
Outdoor Sculpture Garden

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