Keeper of the Plans

Rare Georgia O’Keeffe paintings on display in Wichita for a limited time

A new exhibition opening at the Wichita Art Museum this weekend is a deep dive into Georgia O’Keeffe.

Not only does it feature 27 paintings by the pioneering modern artist, but it also examines O’Keeffe herself — who is widely regarded as one of the first “celebrity artists.”

“Georgia O’Keeffe: Art, Image, Style,” opens Saturday at the Wichita Art Museum, 1400 W. Museum Blvd.

It’s the second high-profile booking in two years for the museum, which last year brought in a traveling exhibition featuring Monet, Matisse, and other French modernists.

Both shows are organized by the Brooklyn Museum in New York — and this particular exhibition is curated by the influential art historian Wanda M. Corn, Professor Emerita at Stanford University.

Admission to the O’Keeffe exhibition comes at a premium, just as last year’s “Monet to Matisse” did.

Here’s how it breaks down:

  • From Tuesdays to Fridays and Sundays, general admission to the museum and “Georgia O’Keeffe” costs $20 for adults, $15 for seniors (60+), and $3 for students with ID and youth 5-17.

  • On Saturdays, general admission to the museum is always free. Admission to “Georgia O’Keeffe” costs $10 for adults and seniors (60+). Admission to “Georgia O’Keeffe” is free on Saturdays to students with ID and youth up to age 17.

  • Admission to “Georgia O’Keeffe” is always free for Wichita Art Museum members.

The museum is hosting two “free days” when no admission will be charged to see “Georgia O’Keeffe: Art, Style, Image.” Those days are Saturday, May 4 and Saturday, May 25.

The thesis of this exhibition is that, throughout her life (1887-1986), O’Keeffe stood apart in all that she did — from her artwork to the photographs she allowed to be taken of her to the way she dressed.

That, through eschewing societal norms, isolating herself and dedicating her whole life to her artwork, she ended up achieving the opposite end and garnering notoriety.

In addition to the 27 paintings, the O’Keeffe exhibition features 72 portrait photographs of her and 70 original garments she wore over her lifetime, many of which she made by hand. The portraits are by artists including O’Keeffe’s husband Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, Irving Penn and Andy Warhol.

Her artwork is juxtaposed beside outfits she wore from that era, which, when viewed together with photographs of her is intended to give the viewer a fuller picture of O’Keeffe the person.

“She was a rebel from day one,” said Patricia McDonnell, director of the Wichita Art Museum. “That was something she expressed in the clothes she wore, the decor of her living spaces, probably how she put a stamp on an envelope.

“Every different decision was an aesthetic choice for her.”

Many people are familiar with O’Keeffe because of her masterful paintings of flowers, which over the years have been regarded with an erotic symbolism by those in the art world — an interpretation O’Keeffe herself pushed back against in her lifetime.

O’Keeffe is seen as one of the pioneers of American modernism in the 20th century — and “an independent, non-conforming woman who, by the end of her life, became an icon of feminism and the face of modernity,” Corn wrote.

She was an “influencer” long before the age of Instagram, a woman who self-created a persona that influenced the interpretation of her work.

Corn, the curator, has assembled work from 18 different lenders to create this traveling exhibition — from private collections to art museums across the country that actually own these O’Keeffes. (The Wichita Art Museum is actually one of those 18 lenders, as the museum owns O’Keeffe’s “East River No. 1,” featured in this exhibition.)

The exhibition opened at New York’s Brooklyn Museum in 2017 under the title “Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern.”

Roberta Smith, art critic for The New York Times, gave it a glowing review, calling it a “refreshing” exhibition.

“(It) reveals in particular how this painter of simplified images of enlarged flowers, Lake George tree trunks and New Mexico’s terra-cotta hills applied her meticulous sense of austerity and detail to every garment she owned,” Smith wrote.

The idea that an artist’s work can best be examined by taking a comprehensive look at the artist herself is one that’s seemingly gaining in popularity — a well-received exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum last year featured the personal belongings of artist Frida Kahlo.

“Georgia O’Keeffe: Art, Image, Style” is on display at the Wichita Art Museum from March 30 through June 23, after which it will travel to the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno.

Matt Riedl covers arts and entertainment news for the Wichita Eagle and has done so since 2015. He maintains the Keeper of the Plans blog on Facebook, dedicated to keeping Wichitans abreast of all things fun.