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MoMA sheds light on Georgia O’Keeffe’s sketches with extensive new exhibit

By Nora Quintanilla

New York, Apr 4 (EFE).- New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is shedding light on a little-known side of modernist US artist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) with an exposition of more than 100 of her works on paper in charcoal, pencil, watercolor and pastel that show her compulsive creativity and the care with which she selected her materials.

The “To See Takes Time” exhibition will open to the public on April 9 and delves into O’Keeffe’s formative years between 1915 and 1917, when she produced more drawings and sketches than during the entire rest of her career, including later pieces in which she selected this medium to experiment after having made a name for herself in the art world.

This is the first presentation prepared by MoMA on O’Keeffe since 1946, the year in which it organized the first retrospective of a female artist, and for this occasion the museum has gathered together a number of series of on-paper works from dozens of collections and institutions that allow her working process to come through.

The artist, who is generally remembered for her many pastel-toned floral paintings, landscapes and sun-bleached animal skulls on canvas, takes the “time to see” – and to sketch – a headache, a camping tent and to observe the imposing landscapes of the Western US and from her travels around the world, all the while mixing both realistic and abstract representation.

At the entrance to the exhibit, one’s attention is immediately seized by “Drawing Number 8,” in charcoal and part of a “special” series, a spiral unfurling that O’Keeffe used as a symbol of generation or of life emerging from a mysterious void.

She wrote that she had made this same drawing many times, never recalling that she had done it before and without knowing where the inspiration for it came.

In the works, we’re seeing a “radical abstract language” that is very much reduced and would not normally be associated with O’Keeffe, said exhibit curator Samantha Friedman on a media tour before the grand opening, adding that normally we think of the artist in terms of her organic and biomorphic forms.

That “minimalist language” whereby she seeks to capture “forms” or shapes, but also “rhythms,” predominated at the start of her career, including works exhibited at New York’s Gallery 291 by photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who earlier had been married to the artist and who sent her letters that accompany the works on display.

Among the many series assembled for the exhibition, “Evening Star” stands out, consisting of eight watercolors of a horizon above which shines a bright star after sundown, and in which the almost frame-by-frame progression of deepening colors culminates in a larger and higher-quality piece painted on Japanese paper.

It’s almost as if she was expressing the impossibility of capturing something like sunset in a single image, because it’s something that occurs over a period of time, said Friedman, noting that O’Keeffe painted these images in 1917 while she was working as a teacher in Texas before she became famous and when she was checking out how to work with just a few artistic materials.

Out of that period also came a “surprise,” namely her series of portraits, beginning with some clearly representative works in which she painted herself seated and nude, and others that are completely abstract in which her friend Paul Strand appears expressed by an dark and irregular stroke on a background of colors.

O’Keeffe, according to the explanatory text accompanying the exhibition, said that some people made her “see shapes,” as in the above case, but almost three decades later she painted the face of another friend, African American artist Beauford Delaney, in an almost photographic manner in a series in charcoal and ending with a pastel work.

When she made these portraits, she recognized that it takes time to understand another person and that one can’t represent a person’s complexity in a single image, and also that it takes times to truly see the people in the portraits, as if one were viewing natural phenomena, Friedman added.

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