Ernst Beyeler, who died in 2010, turned his gallery in Basel into one of the most important addresses of the international art market. Together with his wife, Hildy Beyeler, he built an impressive collection of modernist, Abstract Expressionist, and Pop Art works. Every year the foundation stages three large exhibitions of modern or contemporary art.
The Fondation Beyeler has devoted the first exhibition of its anniversary year to Georgia O’Keeffe, one of the most significant painters and an icon of modern American art. With 85 works from mainly American public and private collections, “Georgia O’Keeffe” offers a representative overview of this exceptional artist’s many-faceted and endlessly surprising work. The retrospective provides European viewers with a rare opportunity for such in-depth exploration of her work, which is hardly represented in collections outside the United States.
The exhibition highlights O’Keeffe’s distinctive way of contemplating her environment and translating her perceptions into wholly unprecedented images of reality – at times almost abstract, at times close to their model in nature. “One rarely takes the time to really see a flower. I have painted it big enough so that others would see what I see.” This quote from 1926 can be viewed as a guiding thread when considering O’Keeffe’s art and life. O’Keeffe developed a highly distinctive visual language, shifting between abstraction and figuration, which to this day has lost none of its topicality. Her singular gaze, combined with her delicate and respectful approach to nature, make Georgia O’Keeffe the most significant and interesting landscape and nature painter of the 20th century.
During her own lifetime, Georgia O’Keeffe was considered a major exponent and co-initiator of new American art as propagated since the late 1910s next to and distinct from the European avant-garde. In 1943, her first museum retrospective took place at the Art Institute of Chicago and in 1946, the Museum of Modern Art in New York organised a large exhibition of her work, the first such display the institution had ever devoted to a female artist. Most of O’Keeffe’s works are to be found in the United States, both in more than 100 public collections and in private hands. In Europe, to which O’Keeffe herself travelled for the first time in 1953 aged 65, only around a dozen works are held in private and public collections. Her first major exhibition on the Old Continent took place in 1993 at the Hayward Gallery in London. One of the rare exhibitions in the years that followed, and the very first to be held in Switzerland, was the retrospective curated by Bice Curiger at the Kunsthaus Zürich in 2003. Today, Georgia O’Keeffe is also among the highly recognised artists in Europe, even though the originals of her works are rarely to be seen here.
“Georgia O’Keeffe” is curated by Theodora Vischer, Chief Curator, and is on view at the Fondation Beyeler from 23 January to 22 May 2022. The exhibition has been organised by the Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, and the Centre Pompidou, Paris, in partnership with the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe.
Fondation Beyeler is included in the BMW Art Guide by Independent Collectors, featured here in 2021.