January 31, 2023

The San Diego Museum of Art Launches Groundbreaking O’Keeffe and Moore Exhibition

Explore two iconic Modernists and their parallel contributions to the artistic development of the 20th century

SAN DIEGO, CA – The San Diego Museum of Art presents O’Keeffe and Moore, a groundbreaking exhibition uniting the work of these artistic giants for the first time, on view at The San Diego Museum of Art from May 13, 2023 – August 27, 2023, and then traveling to Albuquerque Museum in New Mexico and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Canada. The exhibition re-creates both Georgia O’Keeffe’s and Henry Moore’s studios with their original found objects, tools, and furnishings. Visitors can experience the working practices of the two artists to see how natural forms such as animal skulls and bones, coiled sea shells, gnarled driftwood, and interlocking and layered stones inspired the majority of their most iconic creations, and see more than 120 works of art by the two artists on view across five galleries.

Although they lived an ocean apart, O’Keeffe and Moore pioneered and shared a coherent vision and approach to Modernism. While some other Modernist artists also used natural forms as a pathway to abstraction, no other artists amassed such vast collections of found objects and centered their art on this fundamental aspect.

The exhibition, which includes significant works from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the Henry Moore Foundation, as well as nearly 30 other museums, institutions, and lenders, begins with both artists’ studies from life and experimentations with Surrealism, incorporating concepts such as juxtapositions of unlikely forms, ambiguity of scale, and metamorphosis. 

The recreations of the artists’ studios follow, with the original contents from O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch studio in the hills of New Mexico, and Moore’s Bourne Maquette Studio in Perry Green, a small hamlet surrounded by sheep fields in Hertfordshire, England. In addition to the ram’s horns, sea shells, river stones, and animal skulls from O’Keeffe’s collection, also included in the O’Keeffe studio recreation are her original easel, unfinished paintings, brushes that she trimmed herself, and her handmade pastels and paint cards that she created to document and recreate each color. In Moore’s studio—which he coined his “library of natural forms”—items showcased include both cow and sheep bones from the local fields, as well as the skull of a rhinoceros, a giraffe neckbone, and minke whale vertebra, rare objects given to him by his friend, zoologist Julian Huxley. Interspersed among innumerable found objects are plaster maquettes of human figures at various stages of completion—objects from nature and of the human body entwined and underlining the intrinsic relationship of all living things.

Following the studio recreations, the exhibition opens to a series of galleries looking closely at types of natural forms: Bones; Stones; Seashells, Flowers and Internal/External Forms; and Landscapes of Form.

Both artists held up bone fragments against the sky and imagined their artworks with apertures framing the landscape; they both held interests in archaeological sites and the spaces between large blocks of stone; they both investigated the relationship between an internal form and its protective or external element. For O’Keeffe, this exploration resulted in over four decades of refuting interpretations of her floral paintings based on her gender. The exhibition culminates with landscapes by both artists embodying layered and repeating forms with prominent breaks of negative space.

Above all, the common ground between these two artists can be found in the inspiration each took from nature and their enduring association with the landscapes that were an essential part of their life work. Moore relocated from London to the verdant sheep fields of Hertfordshire, England, during the Blitz in 1940, while O’Keeffe left the bustle of New York to settle permanently in New Mexico in 1949, becoming inextricably linked to the striking desert terrain. This exhibition has been assembled from national and international collections, including masterpieces from the intimate to the monumental in scale, and in materials ranging from pastels, and paintings to bronze, as well as travertine, lead, elmwood, lignum vitae, and even stalactite.

“We are excited to showcase for the first time the striking similarities and juxtaposition of Georgia O’Keeffe and Henry Moore, two world-renowned artists,” said Roxana Velásquez, Maruja Baldwin Executive Director and CEO at The San Diego Museum of Art. “Creating such a groundbreaking exhibition was a gradual process from start to finish, and we are eager for visitors to experience and compare the works of these two artists while championing their careers and contributions to the artistic development of the 20th century.”

In 1986 both Modernist icons passed away, marking the end of a watershed artistic era. The artists met in 1946 during Moore’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. O’Keeffe had her retrospective there, MoMA’s first of a woman artist, only a few months earlier.

This exhibition will include a symposium of internationally recognized scholars, an opening dinner celebration, and other related programming.

The exhibition is curated by Anita Feldman, The San Diego Museum of Art’s Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and Education, and renowned expert in works by Henry Moore, having spent nearly 20 years with the Henry Moore Foundation as its Curator and member of the Henry Moore Authentication Committee. The exhibition will next travel to the Albuquerque Museum and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and is accompanied by a beautifully illustrated catalog with original research and contributions from leading international scholars. Due to the logistics and staffing necessary for this special exhibition, there is an additional $10 charge for nonmembers.

Funding for this exhibition is made possible by Lisa and Charles Hellerich, the Wyeth Foundation for American Art, the National Endowment for the Arts, Lani and Joe Curtis, Eileen and Robert Hunt, and PNC Bank. Additional support is provided by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture and the members of The San Diego Museum of Art. 

For more information on The San Diego Museum of Art and to purchase tickets, visit www.SDMArt.org.

About The San Diego Museum of Art

Providing a rich and diverse cultural experience, The San Diego Museum of Art houses some of the world’s finest art. Located in the heart of Balboa Park, the Museum’s internationally renowned collection of more than 22,000 works—dating from 3000 BC to present day—includes Spanish and Italian old masters, South Asian paintings including the Edwin Binney 3rd Collection, East Asian art, American art, and Modern and Contemporary paintings and sculptures. The Museum regularly features major exhibitions of art from around the world, as well as an extensive year-round schedule supporting cultural and educational programs for children and adults. It hosts engaging experiences that invite visitors to explore art through music, dance, film, food, and so much more. The Museum also offers Virtual SDMA, a variety of online experiences, including the SDMA app, Masterpiece Minute podcast, virtual performances in collaboration with other local arts institutions and more. At The San Diego Museum of Art, exhibition text is always in English and Spanish.

The San Diego Museum of Art is located at 1450 El Prado in Balboa Park, San Diego, Calif., 92101. General Information, (619) 232-7931, Group Sales: (619) 696-1935, Website: http://www.SDMArt.org Twitter: @SDMA, Instagram: @SanDiegoMuseumofArt Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheSanDiegoMuseumOfArt.