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Georgia O'Keeffe Exhibit Cements Denver's Status as Western Art Hub

Georgia O’Keeffe, Ranchos Church No. 1, 1929. Oil on canvas; 18-3/4 x 24 in.  Collection of the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida; Purchase the R.H. Norton Trust.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Ram's Head, Blue Morning Glory, 1938. Oil on canvas; 20 x 30 in. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum; Gift of The Burnett Foundation.

The American Museum of Western Art is located in the historic Navarre Building.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Church Steeple, 1930. Oil on canvas; 30 x 16 in. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum; Gift of The Burnett Foundation (1997.06.017).

Charles Partridge Adams, Gathering Storm Near the San Juan Mountains, date not known. Oil paint on canvas.

Charles Partridge Adams, Platte River Sunset, date not known. Oil paint on canvas.

The Denver Art Museum's current Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit shines the spotlight on how Denver has become the place to see Western American art. Georgia O'Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture, Katsinam, and the Land is the Denver Art Museum's first exhibit of this iconic artist's paintings. 
When people think of Western American art, Georgia O'Keeffe is one of the names at the top of the list. Her paintings of her adopted homeland in New Mexico evoke the subtle desert beauty of the West.
 
"It is hard to argue that there was any other woman artist who made the contribution that Georgia O'Keeffe did," says Thomas Smith, Director of the Petrie Institute of Western American Art at the Denver Art Museum. "During her lifetime, during the 1920s and 1930s, she was one of the great artists. She was one of the great painters of her time, not just among female artists."
 
In this exhibit of 53 paintings, including 15 rarely seen images of Hopi katsina tihu (known also as Kachina dolls), visitors to the museum learn more about Georgia O'Keeffe's connection to the West and how it influenced her work as an artist.
 
To O'Keeffe, coming from the East, the West was a magical landscape. A quote from O'Keeffe is printed across a wall of the exhibit: "When I got to New Mexico that was mine. As soon as I saw it that was my country. I'd never seen anything like it before, but it fitted to me exactly."
 
Certainly many Denverites (and even those just visiting Denver) can relate to the love and allure of the wide open Western blue skies contrasted with rocky canyons and sparse green vegetation -- something that resonates as much in 2013 as it did to O'Keeffe starting in the 1920s.
 
"I think it's interesting that Georgia O'Keeffe was such an important American painter, and we know her so much as a New Mexico painter," says Smith. "The Denver Art Museum has always been the major art institution in this region, and here's this really important artist and we never had an exhibit of paintings by her. It's an important moment where it folds into what the Petrie Institute is about."
 
Georgia O’Keeffe, Ranchos Church No. 1, 1929. Oil on canvas; 18-3/4 x 24 in. Collection of the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida; Purchase the R.H. Norton Trust.Go West, and Paint
 
Only relatively recently has Denver truly established itself as a major hub for Western American art, despite more than a century of drawing artists to its challenging and awe-inspiring landscapes. 
 
"Very few great American artists didn't come West," says Smith. "Almost all of them came West and did Western works."
 
The Petrie Institute of Western American Art opened in 2001 as one of a handful of departments within the Denver Art Museum. The Institute develops original scholarships and Western American art exhibitions and programs for the public. 
 
"The goal is to set ourselves apart as leaders in the field for Western American art," says Smith. "It makes so much sense being here in Denver."
 
Although the styles represented in the museum's collections span from classic Western art to contemporary works, O'Keeffe's work is part of the modernist movement. "O'Keeffe was among the vanguard of early American modern painters," explains Smith. "The evolution of modernism in the American West runs parallel to that in the east. However, O'Keeffe doesn't arrive in New Mexico until 1929 and by that time, there had been other artists there adapting modernists principals for more than a decade. Today we see her New Mexico work not so much as early modernism but rather squarely in the context of a modern movement in the 1930s and '40s."
 
The museum's permanent collection of Western American art is on display on the 7th floor of the North Building, where visitors will find historical Western art, and on the 2nd floor of the Hamilton Building, where modern and contemporary Western art is shown. 
 
As Far As The Eye Can See

Georgia O'Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture, Katsinam, and the Land is on display through April 28, 2013. While at the Denver Art Museum, visitors can also see the work of Charles Partridge Adams, who Smith calls "the most important artist of the first part of the 20th century." Rocky Mountain Majesty: The Paintings of Charles Partridge Adams will be on display through Sept. 2, 2013. Charles Partridge Adams, Platte River Sunset, date not known. Oil paint on canvas.
 
Western American art will again put Denver on the map in 2014 with an exhibit of Thomas Moran lithographs planned as well as a bronze sculpture exhibit that will originate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art before coming to Denver and then going to China.

But the Denver Art Museum in not the only notable Western American art collection in the city.
 
"The Anschutz Collection is one of the finest collections of Western paintings in private hands," says Smith of the American Museum of Western Art -- The Anschutz Collection, which was founded in 2010. "It's an incredible private collection. Someone who is searching to see great Western American art, between the Denver Art Museum and Anschutz, will see one of the greatest consortiums in any city of great collections."
 
In addition, the Denver Public Library's Central location displays some of its 400 pieces of Western American art on the 7th floor.
 

Read more articles by Mindy Sink.

Mindy is a freelance writer and author of Walking DenverMoon Handbooks Guide to Denver and co-author of Colorado Organic: Cooking Seasonally, Eating Locally
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