I went to the Met on Tuesday to look at Georgia O'Keeffe paintings, but first I had to find them. A couple of museum workers thought they had seen one or two in the Modern Art section, but they also recommended that I check with the woman that runs the tiny shop next to the American Wing on the opposite side of the museum. I hadn't planned on my visit being another athletic adventure, but I nevertheless ended up pounding a couple of miles inside the Met.
Fortunately, I found the O'Keeffe paintings early on. After winding my way through Roman art and through the Michael Rockefeller Oceanic galleries, I made my way through the first rooms of the Modern Art section and could reassure myself I was in the right century. After a turn to the right and then around another corner, I saw paintings by Charles Sheeler and Arthur Dove. Surely she is near. And, yes, voila!, a room of Georgia O'Keeffes, and more than a couple. Ten.
After spending the week with her story, I was happy to see these particular paintings. While the Met routinely switches out artworks, the O'Keeffe paintings on display on Tuesday included (in chronological order here, not how they were displayed):
Corn, Dark, Number 1 (1924). Painted at Lake George
Grey Tree, Lake George (1925)
Black Iris (1926) The magnified iris, painted in plums and grey pinks, fills and pushes the boundaries of the canvas - a terrific tension of light and dark and the scandalous vulval core imagery that shaped the direction of feminist art in the 1970s.
Clam Shell (1930)
Ranchos Church (1930) O'Keeffe ventured out to Taos to stay at Mabel Dodge's and discovered the Saint Francis of Assissi Mission in the Hispanic community of Ranchos de Taos. Painting the church from the back side, the church takes on the essence of a natural earth formation. I love how the grey sky pushes on the outer surfaces of the structure.
Cow's Skull: Red, White and Blue (1931) See image. O'Keeffe's satire on the search for the Great American painting at the time of the Great Depression and the blossoming of American regional painting. In reaction to the depictions of decrepit buildings in the heartland, O'Keeffe sets a cow's skull, like a crucifix, on top of red, white, and blue, as her homage to American Art.
From the Faraway, Nearby (1937) A turn toward surrealism with the scale of the mountain range dwarfed by the hovering antlered creature that dominates the scene and sky.
Red and Yellow Cliffs (1940) The view of the striated coral and ochre cliffs from Ghost Ranch.
Pelvis II (1944) Highly sculptural and abstract, the blue sky seen through the interior of the bones renders the image a metaphor for mortality. She applies the white paint on the pelvis in strips, maybe with a palette knife, that gives a cracked texture to the bones.
Black Place II (1944) A dark and desolate but beautiful image of a stretch of hills she often liked to paint.
I decided to check to see if there were more O'Keeffe paintings by visiting the American Wing on the other side of the museum, but I knew that several galleries in that wing were closed and that access was tricky. So I spent the next hour, I think, wandering through room and after room of decorative art from various centuries, taking the wrong turn in musical instruments and again in medieval armor and then winding my way back to the main entrance. At that point I was told that the only way to get to the American Wing was from the Temple of Dendur, the expansive room that houses the Nubian temple to the goddess Isis. After passing the entirety of Egyptian civilization to get there, I felt like I was in an old video game.
I walked through many rooms in the American Wing but I didn't see another O'Keeffe. I found the woman who tended the gift shop, and yes, she said, I had seen all of them in Modern. Somewhere in the American Wing, a man approached a security guard and asked him how to get out of there.
Note: The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the final stop on the Fifth Avenue and the High Road to Taos self-guided walking tour.
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