In 1939 Georgia O'Keeffe, who was among the most famous artists in the United States, travelled on commission to Hawai'i to produce images for a Hawaiian Pineapple Company promotional campaign. The artworks resulting from her nine-week trip reveal that O'Keeffe – most commonly associated with the stark deserts of New Mexico – was profoundly inspired by what she saw and experienced in the lush, tropical Hawaiian Islands. This volume, accompanying the exhibition Georgia O'Keeffe: Visions of Hawai'i, organized by The New York Botanical Garden , explores a little-known chapter in the artist's career.
Glowing with colour, the paintings from Hawai'i demonstrate O'Keeffe's ability to make any place her own. The subjects range from close-up views of flowers – for which the artist was already acclaimed – to coastal and mountain landscapes. Painting and drawing many of the same subjects repeatedly, she examined, responded to, and, ultimately, assimilated all she encountered in Hawai'i's unfamiliar environment at a time when it was still a remote U.S. territory.
In addition to essays discussing the Hawai'i pictures and their significance in O'Keeffe's oeuvre as a whole, this landmark volume offers a unique perspective by foregrounding the ecological complexity that is hidden behind O'Keeffe's depictions of Hawai'i-one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth.
One of the essays in this volume is Losing Paradise by Otto and Isa Degener. For many decades in the 20th century, Drs. Otto and Isa Degener botanized and published on the Hawaiian flora while they served as Collaborators in Hawaiian Botany with The New York Botanical Garden. Most of their prodigious published scholarship appeared in the monumental Flora Hawaiiensis and related works, but the Degeners were also prolific writers of articles for the lay public on plant conservation themes in the Hawaiian Islands. One particularly powerful, but unpublished essay was discovered in The Otto Degener Records (1920-1987) of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library of The New York Botanical Garden while research was being done for the exhibition Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai’i. The Degeners’ essay captures the essence of the botanical couple’s own vision of Hawai’i as it relates to the many threats posed to the archipelago’s native flora. In 1985, the Degeners wrote Losing Paradise in response to a May 31, 1985, article in Science magazine describing a debate between commercial and environmental interests over the industrial chipping of old-growth trees for biofuel on the Big Island. This never-before-published essay provides a deeply insightful view of the Degenerianvision of the complex origins, present state, and precarious fate of the authors’ beloved Hawaiian ecosystems.
Theresa Papanikolas is Curator of European and American Art at the Honolulu Museum of Art. Through an innovative reinstallation of the permanent collection and the exhibitions From Whistler to Warhol: Modernism on Paper (2010); Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams: The Hawaii Pictures (2013); and Art Deco Hawaii (2014), she has helped position the museum at the cultural hub of one of the country's most diverse metropolitan areas. From 2006 to 2008, Dr. Papanikolas was Wallis Annenberg Curatorial Fellow at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where she organized Doctrinal Nourishment: Art and Anarchism in the Time of James Ensor (2008) and helped plan Drawing Surrealism (2012). She has also held positions at Rice University, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and has published widely on Dada and Surrealism. She holds degrees in Art History from USC (BA) and the University of Delaware (MA, PhD).
Joanna L. Groarke is Director of Public Engagement and Library Exhibitions Curator at The New York Botanical Garden. She is part of the team that develops Garden-wide exhibitions and oversees the creation and implementation of interpretative materials throughout the 250-acre permanent collections, ranging from award-winning mobile experiences, signage, and display text, and audio tours to scholarly publications. She has developed exhibitions and programs professionally for more than ten years for institutions including the Irish Arts Center, New York, and Tufts University Art Gallery, Medford, MA.