Originally created 07/14/97

Sante Fe museum honors Georgia O'Keeffe



SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Georgia O'Keeffe first saw New Mexico's vast sky of vibrant blue 80 years ago over a small adobe village named Santa Fe.

"From then on, I was always on my way back," the artist later said.

O'Keeffe, a Wisconsin native who lived for years in New York City, made her home in northern New Mexico the last 37 years of her long life, reflecting the region's stark landscape in canvas after canvas.

Now some of those paintings by this internationally recognized pioneer of modernism have a home here as well: A museum devoted exclusively to O'Keeffe opens Thursday just off Santa Fe's famed plaza.

Over her lifetime, O'Keeffe produced more than 2,000 works - sculptures, her signature bleached skulls and lush flowers, landscapes of scoured red cliffs and soaring clouds.

The private Georgia O'Keeffe Museum will have the largest public collection of her art anywhere - almost 90 paintings, watercolors, drawings, pastels and sculpture produced from 1914 to 1982.

In the United States, single-artist museums are rare. "To have a museum devoted to one woman artist is, to my knowledge, unique," said Edward H. Able Jr., president of the American Association of Museums in Washington, D.C.

The museum was founded by Texas philanthropists Anne and John Marion, major benefactors of the arts in Santa Fe, their part-time home.

Anne Marion, heir to ranching and oil interests, is president of the museum and of The Burnett Foundation, her family's philanthropy in Fort Worth, Texas. Her husband is honorary chairman of Sotheby's North America.

The Burnett Foundation and The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation, which handles distribution of the artist's estate, donated most of the museum collection.

No one will say just how many millions the museum and its collection are worth, but it appears no expense was spared in preparing the site.

Located on a quiet side street near the Santa Fe Plaza, the low-slung, brown building is made partly of the adobe brick that is the hallmark of the rigidly enforced local style.

The structure, once a Spanish Baptist church, was remodeled and expanded, creating 13,000 square feet of space for 10 galleries, visitor orientation rooms, a book shop and museum offices.

In the center is a brick-paved courtyard dominated by "Abstraction," a 10-foot-tall cast aluminum sculpture by O'Keeffe.

The gallery walls are smooth, off-white plaster, specially troweled by hand. The floors are grainy concrete in a darker earth tone.

The museum's austerity ensures that nothing distracts the eye from the works that line the walls - a feast of O'Keeffes, some of them startlingly familiar, some on public display for the first time.

The inaugural exhibit displays 117 works, some on loan, including the widely exhibited "Jimson Weed," done in 1932, and an early series of watercolor nudes.

The show was curated by potter Juan Hamilton, O'Keeffe's assistant and companion in her later years.

The museum's simplicity echoes O'Keeffe's sparsely furnished home, Ghost Ranch, outside the village of Abiquiu, 50 miles to the north.

That's where she settled in 1949, after the death of her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz. She divided her time between the village and nearby Ghost Ranch until she moved to Santa Fe in 1984. She died here two years later, at age 98.

"Her art, I think, resonates with the obvious affection, the joy that the landscape and objects of the West ... gave her," said museum director Peter Hassrick, "and which she in return gives back to us."