The New York Botanical Garden calls itself a “museum of plants” for good reason: with immaculately kept grounds overflowing with gorgeously maintained flora, it’s a much a cultural gem as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And in an entrancing, recently-opened exhibit, the Garden’s natural wonders actually converge with the world of visual art.
Though she’s best known for depicting the blooming desert landscapes of New Mexico, Georgia O’Keeffe spent a formative, immersive year in the Hawaiian Islands in 1939. Mid-life and mid-career, at the height of her fame, O’Keeffe had traveled there on the dime of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company to create images for a promotional campaign of theirs. But she ended up making stunning art for her own purposes, capturing not only her signature close-up flowers but mountains, waterfalls, and the overall ecological complexity of the Hawaiian landscape.
Those works will get a rare and long-awaited showing at the Garden’s landmark exhibit focused on this pivotal time in O’Keeffe’s artistic life, alongside a grand display in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory showcasing Hawaii’s wild and cultivated flora, including the tropical specimen O’Keeffe saw, ranging from hibiscus and heliconia to bird-of-paradise and bougainvillea (all of which are exhibited in settings by the Tony-winning designer Scott Pask). And much as O’Keeffe’s paintings offered not only beauty but a much-needed window into Hawaii’s unique culture, the exhibit here isn’t just all about gorgeous floral displays: throughout the Garden visitors will find insights into Hawaiian history and conservation of its ecology. Georgia O'Keeffe: Visions of Hawai'i, through Oct. 28; 2900 Southern Blvd.