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Seeing the Southwest

Georgia O’Keeffe show at Heard Museum captures artist’s fascination with new desert home

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Posted: Monday, January 20, 2014 6:19 am

Even those with only a dim interest in fine art have likely heard of Georgia O’Keeffe or seen a poster filled with one of her vivid flower paintings.

You can get better acquainted with the famed American artist for a limited time at Heard Museum, where the exhibit “Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture, Katsinam, and the Land,” is on display. It’s organized by The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, and it’s worth a stop if you’re at all interested in a closer look at an art world heavy hitter who helped broadened the concept of American Modernism.

In 1929, O’Keeffe, a native of Wisconsin, began spending part of the year living and working in New Mexico, a pattern she hardly altered until 1949, when she made The Land of Enchantment her permanent home. She died in 1986.

As a newcomer to the Southwest that first summer, O’Keeffe expressed her fascination with her surroundings in at least 23 paintings that depict the architecture, landscape and religious arts of the region. Many of the drawings and paintings of those new-to-her things are part of the show, which encompasses works from that first year in New Mexico to 1953.

While the landscapes are a familiar theme of O’Keeffe’s (1937’s “Chama River, Ghost Ranch” is in the show), less well-known to the casual observer are her representations of Hopi and Pueblo Katsinam, carved and painted representations of Hopi and Pueblo spirit beings, also called kachinas.

The two-story exhibition is noteworthy for several reasons. First, it’s the best — and, as far as this writer can tell, only — place nearby to see at very close range original O’Keeffes en masse without making a trip to Santa Fe.

Second, it reveals works beyond the blown-up flower and skull prints made familiar by mass marketers. Pencil drawings in sketchbooks, with O’Keeffe’s small, hard-to-read cursive notes in the margins, are as interesting as some of the finished paintings themselves.

Third — and this is a big one — Heard Museum is able to enhance the show in a way no other museum that’s hosted it can, thanks to Heard’s impressive collection of authentic katsina dolls. The striking figures are presented with interpretation from exhibit advisor Alph Secakuku (Hopi) and lend another dimension to the art on the walls, allowing visitors to infer for themselves why O’Keeffe may have been so captivated by the dolls that she was compelled to paint her own interpretations of them.

The exhibition includes a free, round-the-clock screening of the short biopic, “Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life in Art,” which is helpful in acquainting visitors with O’Keeffe and her context within American art. It’s the same film that’s screened at the O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.

There are also three letters, including envelopes and photos, that O’Keeffe sent to her husband from New Mexico. A pop-up gift shop sells a small selection of cards, prints, books, movies and other O’Keeffe merchandise, and Heard Museum’s Courtyard Café has on its menu for a limited time Hatch green chile cheese enchiladas, a recipe museum spokesman Mark Scarp says was found amid O’Keeffe’s papers.

If you go

What: Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture, Katsinam, and the Land

When: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays, through March 3

Where: Heard Museum, 2301 N. Central Ave., Phoenix

Cost: $18 for adults, $13.50 for seniors age 65 and older, $7.50 for children 6-12 and students with i.d., free for children 5 and younger and American Indians

Information: (602) 252-8840 or

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