See New Mexico through O'Keeffe's eyes

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“When I saw this landscape, it was mine,” Georgia O'Keeffe wrote about New Mexico's distinctive landscape. Her first encounter was in 1917, en route back to Texas from a Colorado vacation, according to Barbara Buhler Lynes, co-curator of the new Denver Art Museum exhibit “Georgia O'Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture, Katsinam and the Land.”

The former curator of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, which organized the traveling exhibit, writes in the show catalog that the artist wanted to return to this land that fascinated her and finally did so in 1929. Then, she connected with Mabel Dodge Luhan and her husband Tony, a member of Taos Pueblo, who introduced her to Native American dances, where she may have seen katsinam. “Kachina” is an Anglicized version of the word for those sacred figures, explained Thomas Smith, director of the Petrie Institute of Western American Art at the DAM.

The painter returned to New Mexico every summer from her home in New York, where she lived with her husband, famed photographer Alfred Stieglitz.

She painted and drew images of the land and its architecture and its cultures, colored by her intense emotional response. In 1934, she discovered Ghost Ranch “and found the spiritual home she had been seeking,” Lynes said. She purchased a home in 1940 and made it her permanent home three years after Stieglitz died in 1946.

Smith said she constantly alternated between realistic and abstract images throughout her painting career. A series of three images of “the black place” illustrate the variety.

The exhibit includes 53 O'Keeffe works. Among them are 15 rarely-exhibited images of different Hopi Katsina tihu — kachina dolls, as well as paintings of Hispanic and Native American architecture and dramatic New Mexico landscapes. Because she kept these Katsina images at her home and rarely exhibited them, they offer new information about this popular American artist and her deep respect for the diverse cultures she found.

In the farthest gallery, the visitor finds a group of beautifully painted katsinam from the DAM's extensive Native American arts collection, arranged by John Lukavic, Associate Curator of Native Arts at the DAM. Also, there are related paintings and sculpture by contemporary Native American artists, including Ramona Sakiestewa and Dan Namingha and his son, who are Hopi and Chippewa/Dakota Sioux. He adds a touch of humor with his “O'Keeffe, After Whistler,” a spin on the famous “Whistler's Mother,” with O'Keeffe's likeness installed in that iconic rocking chair.

A short video, “Georgia O'Keeffe: a Difference in Art” is shown in this last gallery, with many segments in her voice. It offers a layer of biographical information that overlays the colorful paintings nicely.

After sitting to absorb it, another stroll through the exhibit is recommended.

If you go

“Georgia O'Keeffe: Architecture, Katsinam and the Land” will be exhibited at the Denver Art Museum through April 28. It is included in general admission. There will be docent-led tours daily at 1 p.m. Visitors who want to explore the creative process can enjoy the Paint Studio, across from the gallery entrance. On weekends, local artists will demonstrate their skills. A series of Saturday studio classes are scheduled Feb. 23-March 16. denverartmuseum.org, 720-865-5000.

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