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story.lead_photo.caption Lauren Haynes and Chad Alligood, co-curators of “The Beyond: Georgia O’Keeffe and Contemporary Art,” stand Thursday near O’Keeffe’s Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, part of the new exhibit at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. - Photo by Spencer Tirey

BENTONVILLE -- Georgia O'Keeffe's iconic painting, Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, is one of the first pieces visitors will see when they enter the exhibition gallery at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art over the next several months.

The artist's 1932 oil-on-canvas painting, which was acquired by the museum for $44.4 million in late 2014, is hard to ignore. Chad Alligood, a former Crystal Bridges and now independent curator, described the enormous white flower as a "knockout painting" and one of the well-known works from O'Keeffe's influential career.

"It's a real cornerstone of the history of American art," Alligood said Thursday.

The piece also is a cornerstone of "The Beyond: Georgia O'Keeffe and Contemporary Art," a temporary exhibition that opens at the Bentonville museum this weekend. The Crystal Bridges-organized show takes a broad look at O'Keeffe's career, which produced works like Jimson Weed, Lake George, Coat and Red (1919), Radiator Building -- Night, New York (1927), Flying Backbone (1944) and The Beyond (1972).

The inspiration for the exhibition's title was one of the last works O'Keeffe was able to complete unassisted because of her failing eyesight. She died in 1986.

But "The Beyond" -- which opens to the public Saturday and will be on view through Sept. 3 -- goes much deeper than a showcase of highlights.

Alligood and Crystal Bridges curator Lauren Haynes, who co-curated the exhibition, said the goal was to examine O'Keeffe's legacy and influence today. The project led them to collect paintings, sculptures and photographs from about 20 contemporary artists, whose works are now on display alongside the painter often called the mother of American modernism.

"We had this idea to not only think about O'Keeffe, but O'Keeffe in the context of the present," Haynes said. "We set up visits and had conversations with artists. We never started [conversations] with O'Keeffe. We started with their work and with their practice. But when we got into the studio we saw O'Keeffe. We saw the inspiration that was coming out of the work."

The curators organized "The Beyond" by the diverse themes that were evident throughout O'Keeffe's career, covering topics like flowers, the human body, still life, cities, deserts and abstract art.

Works that appear in the exhibition are placed in close proximity to works by contemporary artists like Sharona Eliassaf, Cynthia Daignault, Molly Larkey, Dylan Gebbia-Richards and Jennifer Packer.

For example, O'Keeffe's oil painting, Yellow Jonquils, #3 ((1936), hangs on the gallery wall next to Packer's Untitled (2015), which features yellow flowers gathered from a funeral bouquet.

Two O'Keeffe landscapes -- Black Place (1944) and Canyon Country, White and Brown Cliffs (1965) -- are paired with colorful paintings by Eliassaf, including her New York-inspired Stars to Dust, Dust to Stars (2016). Eliassaf, who has spent most of her life traveling between New York City and Tel Aviv, Israel, said O'Keeffe has been one of the biggest influences on her career.

"Being in the desert and dreaming of the city, and being in the city and dreaming of the desert, that's how I feel," Eliassaf said. "That's what my paintings are about. Being part of two worlds, I think, is how I relate to [O'Keeffe] most."

Eliassaf was one of several contemporary artists on hand to see their work included in the museum's latest exhibition. She first had a conversation with Haynes and Alligood about 1½ years ago, but the reality of being part of a show featuring O'Keeffe's work didn't set in until Thursday.

"I imagined it, but now that it's happening, I'm a little bit shocked -- in a good way," Eliassaf said.

New York City's skyline and the deserts of New Mexico are among O'Keeffe's most well-known subjects. So are her flower paintings, which she began in 1924 in response to modern architecture. O'Keeffe purposely painted the flowers big so they "could not be ignored," according to Alligood.

Crystal Bridges has followed through as well by enlisting Detroit artist Louise Jones to create a 30-foot, floral mural in the corridor outside the exhibition. Jones collaborated with local experts regarding the plants and flowers native to the region before producing Picked from the Garden of Celestial Delights (2018), which depicts Coral Charm Peony, Butterfly Flowering Dogwood and Lamb's Ear.

Jones will create additional murals when "The Beyond" travels to additional locations.

After its stay at Crystal Bridges, the museum's exhibition will head to the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh and the New Britain Museum of American Art in New Britain, Conn.

"We've been able to bridge the historical works by Georgia O'Keeffe to the present day," Alligood said. "Being able to tell that story of American art more broadly in the current context was part of the impulse."

Photo by Spencer Tirey
Artist Cynthia Daignault points talks about her pieces titled "Light Atlas" that is part of a new exhibit opening at Crystal Bridges.

A Section on 05/25/2018

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