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Visual Edge: Georgia O'Keeffe's Eloquent Objects at Tacoma Art Museum

Paintings on view comprise an all-inclusive interpretation of the term "still life"

Maurice Sterne (1878-1957), New Mexico Still Life, circa 1919. 0il on canvas, 10½?- 23½ inches. Lent by Denver Art Museum, Colorado. William Sr. and Dorothy Harmsen Collection, by exchange. 2013.5. © Maurice Sterne. Courtesy International Arts ®

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"Eloquent Objects: Georgia O'Keeffe and Still-Life Art in New Mexico" is a major coup for Tacoma Art Museum. This major national touring exhibition featuring 22 of O'Keeffe's paintings and 42 paintings by her contemporaries who lived and worked in New Mexico for a while. Over a period of approximately 30 years, the deserts of New Mexico were a Mecca for modernist artists including the likes of Stuart Davis and Marsden Hartley and, the most famous of all, O'Keeffe.

"It has been a decade since the Pacific Northwest has seen so many O'Keeffe paintings under one roof, and this is the first exhibition to focus on the role of the still life as a means for exploring New Mexico's culture and diversity," says TAM Director Stephanie Stebich."

Paintings on view comprise an all-inclusive interpretation of the term "still life." Included are landscapes, interior scenes and abstract paintings categorized as still life because the subject matter is treated as an arrangement of objects, usually up close in tight space with little or no linear perspective. The paintings are arranged according to themes: bones; blossoms; fruits, vegetables and domestic objects; cultural artifacts; architecture and abstractions.

A seventh overriding theme not explicitly stated is space - the vast open spaces of land and sky in the Southwestern deserts, the cramped spaces of interior objects, and most importantly the modernist spatial arrangement of shapes inside the four sides of a picture frame, a sense of space inherited from Cezanne and from cubism. Many of the earliest works in the show are hugely influenced by Cezanne.

The cramped space and the solidly painted fruit in Jozef Bakos' 1926 "Still Life with Self Portrait" could easily be mistaken for a Cezanne. His "Kitchen Window" not only has an upward-tilted table like Cezanne's "Mt. Ste. Victoire," the mountain Cezanne painted countless times, can be seen through the window. Another example of a Cezanne-like still life is Maurice Sterne's 1919 painting "New Mexico Still life." The perspective of the cane chair is pushed up to the surface like a Cezanne table and the peppers, specifically Southwestern, look like Cezanne's fruit.

Harry Paul Burlin's untitled still life with guitar looks like a copy of a cubist still life by Picasso or Braque.

Other outstanding non-O'Keeffe works in this show include Hartley's "Santos, New Mexico" and Alexandre Hoque's "Studio Corner-Taos."

Almost every painting in the show employs similar modernist and cubist space, none more beautifully than O'Keeffe's many paintings. In all of her paintings the main objects are seen up close and all of the shapes are classically balanced yet ever-so-slightly asymmetrical. The placement and relationship between the objects in her paintings and the frame are influenced by the cropping of modernist photography. She even went so far in her awareness of the format as to instruct her framer to change the color or materials of frames at the horizon line.

The paintings for which O'Keeffe is most famous, the large flowers, are stupendous. Her paintings of bones are beautiful and mystical. Her color variations range from striking contrasts to the most subtle of hue and value modulations. O'Keeffe's paintings are ubiquitous in reproduction on everything from calendars to placemats, but her original works are seldom shown outside the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. This exhibition will be for many a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see so many of them in the flesh. They are absolutely stunning.

"Eloquent Objects: Georgia O'Keeffe and Still-Life Art in New Mexico," 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday,  10 a.m. to 8 p.m. third Thursday, through June 7, Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave. Tacoma, $12-$14,

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