Sharon Lorenzo takes in the new O’Keefe exhibit at MoMA.

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) Photo by Alfred Stieglitz, 1918, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.


In 1946, Georgia O’Keeffe was the first woman in America to be granted an art exhibition of her work at the Museum of Modern Art. Today three members of the MOMA staff have revisited her creations thanks to a grant from the Getty Foundation which has started a funding program called ‘The Paper Project Initiative’.[1] Samantha Friedman, Associate Curator of Drawings and Prints with her assistants, Laura Neufeld and Emily Olek assembled 120 works using some paintings and her preparatory drawings and photographs  to show the audience how O’Keeffe’s style evolved from her early  years as an art student in New York to her mature decades living near Santa Fe, New Mexico. The title, “To See Takes Time”, is reminiscent of one art theory that the average museum viewer spends about 20 seconds in front of a work of art when visiting a museum.[2]  In Spanish there is a much-used expression: Puede Ver Pero No Puede Mirar which means you have looked but you have not seen a thing. This exhibition lets us leisurely look and see clues as to how Georgia took time to develop her style with the use of line, color, form and shape, enhanced by her surroundings and instruction from professors and mentors along the way on her 99-year path.

No. 12, Special.  Charcoal on paper, 1916. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Georgia was one of seven children in her family who were all born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin on a dairy farm.  When she was sixteen, her parents moved the family to Virginia, and after Georgia finished high school, she went to New York City to attend The Teachers College at Columbia University. There, under the instruction of her Professor Arthur Wesley Dow, his theories encouraged her to experiment with variations in composition, scale, color, and repetition in her drawings and watercolors. He explained that like the rhythm of walking and breathing, these things will build an artist’s powers of concentration.[3] She then took more classes at the Arts Student League in NYC with the artist, William Merritt Chase. He encouraged his students to visit the 291 Gallery on Fifth Avenue where Alfred Stieglitz had mounted a show of contemporary photography. Although he was 24 years older than Georgia, Stieglitz was so taken by her presence that when he saw some of her work, he stated in 1916, “At last, a woman on paper!” [4]  Volumes have been written on their subsequent marriage, illicit affairs, and artistic cooperation despite many pitfalls.  The MOMA curators use O’Keeffe’s works on paper to document that most of her oil paintings came about after many drawings in pencil, graphite, ink and watercolor.  Seeing them all in sequence together in this show allows us to stop, look, and see her visual process evolve over time.

Evening Star, Watercolor on paper, 1917. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, New Mexico, 1934, oil on canvas.

These two images show O’Keeffe using earlier watercolors as later inspiration for her outdoor compositions after she assumed a residence outside of Santa Fe in 1934.  The isolated environment of the hills and valleys in that part of the world allowed her to work in peace and quiet with Stieglitz visiting occasionally.  Another work in this exhibition also blends her love of the native plants and flowers of the American West with the sharpened focus of the photographic technique that she learned from Stieglitz. This work, called An Orchid, from 1941 is a lovely pastel on paper mounted on board. The detailed intensity of the inner beauty of the flower is evident for all to enjoy.

An Orchid, 1941. Pastel on paper mounted on board. MOMA collection.

In 2014, Walton heiress Alice purchased a work of O’Keeffe to add to her new museum collection in Bentonville, Arkansas. Entitled Jimson Weed, No. 1, 1932, it was sold by the O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe at an auction with Sotheby’s in New York. While the estimate for the work was $10 to $15 million, Alice Walton paid $44.4 million as the final bid. That makes O’Keeffe by far the most expensive female artist in the world today.[5]   When her art advisor told her the price was way above the estimate in the sale, Alice responded, “Darling, I just have to have it !” [6]  Ironically, jimson weed is a poisonous flowering plant which causes blurred vision, hallucinations, and multiple forms of physical toxicity.  With her vast financial resources, Alice Walton’s Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville is now filled with magnificent works of American art from the earliest days of our nationhood to the present.

Jimson Weed, No. 1, 1932. Oil on canvas, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas.

Art critic Lance Esplund said that this exhibition offers us windows into O’Keeffe artistic sources, studio practices, and private life.[7]    Having been awarded a presidential medal of freedom in 1977 by President Gerald Ford, we see that the nation agrees that her contributions have been meaningful to so many.  Georgia has taught us that indeed: To See Takes Time.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Jimson Weed, (Datura stramonium), 1964-68. Black and White Polaroid, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico.


The Museum of Modern Art, New York   April 9-August 12, 2023


[1] Glenn Lowry,  Georgia O’Keeffe : To See Takes Time. The Museum of Modern Art, 2023, p.7.

[2] Source:, January 25, 2017.

[3] Samantha Friedman, I Have Made This Drawing Several Times,  GOK: MOMA, 2023, p.17.

[4] Benita Eisler, An American Romance: O’Keeffe and Stieglitz, Doubleday Press, 1991.

[5] Chris Bahn, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, March 24, 2015.

[6] Anonymous source.

[7] Lance Esplund, O’Keeffe’s Art Beyond the Canvas. The Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2023, p.A13.