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Indepth Arts News:

"O' So Calla Lilly - The Brooks Presents Georgia O'Keeffe"
2003-02-23 until 2003-05-04
Memphis Brooks Museum
Memphis, TN, USA United States of America

During the second half of the 19th century, the South African calla lily was introduced to the United States and its distinctive spear-shaped leaves and yellow and white blooms began to appear as a subject in American art. Georgia O'Keeffe and the Calla Lily in American Art, 1860-1940 is the first exhibition to examine this exotic bloom as a popular and essentially modern subject. Georgia O'Keeffe and the Calla Lily in American Art, 1860-1940, inspects the great appeal of the calla as a subject for American painters and photographers. It presents a visual feast of more than 50 depictions of this elegant bloom by over 30 different artists, such as Imogen Cunningham, Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O'Keeffe, Joseph Stella, and Edward Weston.

The exhibition's eight paintings by O'Keeffe, five by Hartley, and one by Demuth acknowledge the importance of this subject to the Stieglitz circle of modernist artists. O'Keeffe became known as "The Lady of the Lily" in the 1920s because of her intense interest in the calla, which she depicted frequently and in marvelously provocative ways. The manner in which she depicted the flower defines her achievement with respect to this subject and within the context of that of other American artists. By documenting the popularity of the calla lily in painting over an eighty-year period, the exhibition offers visitors a captivating tour of the advent of modernism in American art. The flower's popularity waned rather suddenly, and since 1940 it has rarely interested American artists. Thus the narrow focus of the exhibition allows for a fascinating glimpse into an important moment in the development of modern art. Furthermore, it offers visitors an exciting and rich visual experience, and the opportunity to view the works of many major American artists.

The exhibition catalogue, which will be available in the Museum Store, includes color plates, an exhibition checklist, biographical information about the artists, and a selected bibliography.

The calla lily began to appeal to American artists shortly after the plant was first imported to America in the mid-19th century. In the early 20th century, the calla lily began to enjoy a heightened popularity, particularly in the 1920's and 1930's when dozens of painters and photographers made it the subject of their work. This exhibition explores the great appeal of the calla lily and further defines O'Keeffe's place within the history of American art by presenting her work alongside that of her contemporaries.

Exhibition Lecture. Dr. Chris Reed, Chair of the Art Department at Lake Forest College and the 2002 Hohenberg Chair of Excellence at the University of Memphis, will give a talk entitled "Is a Calla Lily ever just a Calla Lily?: Abstraction, Symbolism, and Sexual Identity." Dr. Reed will explore the work of early American Modernist artists Georgia O'Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, and Charles Demuth through the work in the exhibition.

Speakers Bureau. In order to increase interest in the exhibition, the Brooks Speakers Bureau will offer free thirty-minute slide presentations to community groups. The talks, given by Museum volunteers, will be offered as of November and will be available through the full run of the exhibition. A flyer with details on the program will be mailed to a variety of organizations including senior citizen centers, clubs (garden, civic, etc.), and churches.

Free School Tours. The Museum will offer free tours for grades 1 - 12. Teachers resource packets will be provided that will include an introduction/overview of the exhibition, pre- and post-visit activities, cross-curricular connections, a timeline of events and a resource list for books, videos and websites. Docent-lead gallery tours are followed by hands-on activities in the studio. The tours will stress the changes in American culture and society over a fascinating eighty-year period through the works in the exhibition. Georgia O'Keeffe and the Calla Lily in American Art, 1860-1940, organized by the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, has been made possible by The Burnett Foundation and the National Advisory Council of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. Additional support has been received from The Brown Foundation Inc., Houston, McCune Charitable Foundation, and the City of Santa Fe Arts Commission and the 1% Lodgers' Tax. This project is funded under an agreement with the Tennessee Arts Commission, and The National Endowment for the Arts.

George O’Keeffe
Calla Lilies, 1924
Oil on canvas
Private Collection
©Juan Hamilton

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