Just in time for summer, New York Botanical Garden has opened their newest exhibition, Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawaii, which features 17 paintings by O’Keeffe from her visit to Hawaii in 1939. The traditional installation is enriched by the surrounding greenhouses, which have been arranged by landscape architects to include the types of Hawaiian terrain O’Keeffe would have seen on her trip. Vibrant red hibiscuses, lantana flowers, and a variety of palm tree species can be found boasting their colors and beauty throughout the spaces.
Surprisingly, O’Keeffe was not originally excited about her venture to the islands. She was approached by the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (now “Dole”) for a commission to produce two paintings to use in their print advertisements, hence her ambivalence. In exchange, they offered her the option to determine the subject of these works herself, a degree of artistic freedom that likely encouraged her to accept the invitation, along with the opportunity to explore the islands and paint what she pleased. Unsurprisingly, O’Keeffe fell in love with the diverse nature of the land, especially the flowers and pineapple fields, “all sharp and silvery stretching for miles off to the beautiful irregular mountains.”
O’Keeffe spent just over two months between the various islands, and produced 20 paintings during that time. The lush, bright colors of the flora, and the stark contrasts of black volcanic rock against the blue sea and sky were new to her, especially in comparison to her signature pastel desert landscapes. Even with this diametric divergence from her usual subject, the Hawaiian works still feel very much like O’Keeffe. At her 1940 show of the works, one critic commented that the Hawaiian paintings, “testify to O’Keeffe’s ability to make herself at home anywhere.”
The New York Botanical Garden exhibition will run from Saturday May 19, 2018 until Sunday October 28, 2018.