Hawaii Comes To New York With The New Georgia O'Keeffe Exhibit

Hawaii is in bloom this summer — in the Bronx — thanks to the New York Botanical Garden’s Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawaii installation.

Hawaii is in bloom this summer — in the Bronx — thanks to the New York Botanical Garden's Georgia O'Keeffe: Visions of Hawaii installation. And anyone who loves the vibrant and fragrant flowers and plants that thrive in the Hawaiian Islands can enjoy them, along with the legendary American artist's interpretation of their flora and landscapes in 20 stunning paintings she created there in 1939. The exhibition runs through October 28, 2018.

Shown together for the first time since 1990 — and signaling a homecoming for the paintings, which were first displayed in New York in 1940 — the images are a surprise to most people, even some in the art world, who are most familiar with O'Keeffe's depictions of the desert Southwest. The artist created this series over the nine weeks she visited the islands on commission for the Hawaiian Pineapple Company.

In a letter to her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, O'Keeffe wrote of Hawaii, "Many things are so beautiful that they don't seem real. My idea of the world — nature — things that grow — the fantastic things mountains can do has not been beautiful enough."

The art installation's curator, Theresa Papanikolas, Ph.D., Deputy Director of Art and Programs and Curator of European and American Art at the Honolulu Museum of Art, said of O'Keeffe's canvases: "They show her ability to depict a sense of place in a place that was not familiar to her. And she was able to do so in a short amount of time."

The New York Botanical Garden spent 18 months securing the paintings from their permanent homes in museums and private collections and preparing the striking flower displays in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. The exhibition is multi-faceted and includes special Hawaii Weekends and Aloha Nights featuring music, hula, tattoo and lei-making demonstrations, photography and watercolor workshops, lectures, a poetry tour and outdoor art installations by contemporary Hawaiian-Chinese artist Mark Chai.

So if you love all things Hawaiian — especially orchids, heliconia, hibiscus, bougainvillea, birds of paradise, ginger and frangipani — and want to learn about O'Keeffe's time in the islands, here's a look at what awaits just 20 minutes north of midtown Manhattan by train. And if you'd like to get back to Hawaii, there's also a sweepstakes to win one of three four-night stays at Hyatt hotels on Oahu, Maui and Kauai, with airfare for two provided by Hawaiian Airlines.

Hibiscus with Plumeria
Hibiscus with Plumeria by Georgia O'Keeffe | Smithsonian American Art Museum/Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

If any two flowers perfectly capture the Hawaiian Islands, it's these delicate blossoms, which Georgia O'Keeffe depicted in her painting Hibiscus with Plumeria.

Oahu's Moana Surfrider
Oahu's Moana Surfrider in the 1930s | Courtesy Moana Surfrider

When Georgia O'Keeffe arrived in Honolulu on February 8, 1939 after traveling by train from New York to Los Angeles and then across the Pacific on the SS Lurline, she stayed at the Moana Hotel (now the Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa) on Waikiki Beach, which opened in 1901 and is shown here as it looked in the 1930s.

New York Botanical Gardens
The exhibit includes a flower installation with flowers and plants native to Hawaii | New York Botanical Garden

Thanks to the planting designs of Francisca Coehlo and set pieces by Tony Award-winning scenic designer Scott Pask, the interior of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory will bloom with more than 300 types of plants. Outdoor displays will be added in June.

Black Lava Bridge, Hana Coast No. 1
Black Lava Bridge, Hana Coast No. 1 by Georgia O'Keeffe | Honolulu Museum of Art

Anyone who has driven Maui's twisting, turning Hana Highway will recognize Hana's rugged landscape. Here, O'Keeffe's Black Lava Bridge, Hana Coast No. 1, which depicts an arch near Leho'ula Beach.

Georgia O'Keeffe
Georgia O'Keeffe | Alfred Stieglitz/Georgia O'Keeffe Archive, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Georgia O'Keeffe, photographed by the arch at Leho-ula Beach near Hana, Maui, by Harold Stein during one of their excursions.

Heliconia, Crab's Claw Ginger
Heliconia, Crab's Claw Ginger by Georgia O'Keeffe | Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Titled Heliconia, Crab's Claw Ginger, O'Keeffe's oil on canvas interpretation of this striking plant that grows throughout Hawaii is one of the two images that the Hawaii Pineapple Company ultimately used in its advertisements.

Waterfall No. 1, Iao Valley, Maui
Waterfall No. 1, Iao Valley, Maui by Georgia O'Keeffe | Memphis Brooks Museum of Art/Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Another landscape on Maui that captivated O'Keeffe was the dramatic mountains of the Iao Valley and she painting several canvases of its verdant slopes and cascading waterfalls, including this one: Waterfall No. 1, Iao Valley, Maui.

Pineapple Bud
Pineapple Bud by Georgia O'Keeffe | Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

This oil on canvas, Pineapple Bud, is the second one used by the Hawaiian Pineapple Company in its advertisements. O'Keeffe actually painted it upon returning to New York after an earlier submission of a papaya tree was rejected.