Georgia O’Keeffe New Yorks at Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago presents Georgia O’Keeffe: “My New Yorks” on view from June 2–September 22, 2024. This exhibition—featuring approximately 100 works across a range of media, including paintings, drawings, pastels, and photographs—is the first to seriously examine O’Keeffe’s urban landscapes, while also situating them in the diverse context of her other compositions of the late 1920s and early 1930s. 

Famed for her images of flowers and Southwestern landscapes, O’Keeffe has received little attention for her inspiring urban landscapes created in New York early in her career. In 1924 the artist and her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, moved to the Shelton Hotel in New York City. At the time, it was the tallest building of its kind in the world. Shortly thereafter, she began creating a powerful group of works that she called “my New Yorks,” which explored the dynamic potential of the New York skyline.

O’Keeffe resisted the popular approaches of the time, which often viewed the city as a streamlined, impersonal series of geometric canyons. Instead she created dynamic compositions both looking down into the city as well as humbling views directed up at the new urban monoliths. 

“O’Keeffe stated that ‘One can’t paint New York as it is, but rather as it is felt,’ and these works represent her inventive approach to understanding Manhattan’s exciting new skyscrapers,” Sarah Kelly Oehler, Field-McCormick Chair and Curator, Arts of the Americas, and vice president, Curatorial Strategy, said. “Frequently juxtaposing natural effects with soaring towers, her ‘New Yorks’ beautifully demonstrate the artist’s powerful personal response to the city.”

These New York paintings are by no means outliers in O’Keeffe’s body of work. Instead, they are integral in understanding how she became the artist we know today. For this reason, the exhibition includes a significant portion of the artist’s New York paintings alongside select works that highlight her varied subject matter, from shells and flowers to abstractions and landscapes. 

“O’Keeffe moved easily between representation and abstraction, exploring numerous subjects and aesthetic vocabularies concurrently,” Annelise K. Madsen, Gilda and Henry Buchbinder Associate Curator, Arts of the Americas, said. “With tremendous curiosity and dexterity, she translated her lived experiences into bold compositions, ranging from towering skyscrapers and expansive city views, to enlarged flowers, bones, landscapes, and more.”

This integration of subject matter underscores how O’Keeffe centered these works in her innovative and experimental modernist investigation of form, line, and color—an approach she continued upon her arrival in the Southwest. Additionally, this unique show will also include contemporaneous photographs by Stieglitz from the Shelton and other Manhattan high-rises, and the productive artistic dialogue that developed as each was inspired by their powerfully new urban environment.

Georgia O’Keeffe: “My New Yorks” is curated by the Art Institute’s Sarah Kelly Oehler and Annelise K. Madsen. The accompanying richly illustrated catalog will feature a series of essays that presents new scholarship and viewpoints on this formative group of works.

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