You may think you know Georgia O’Keeffe, but you don’t. Or, at least, you don’t know her as well as you will after visiting the fantastic collection opening at the Montclair Art Museum today and running through January 20, 2013.

With fifty works of art visiting from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in New Mexico, visitors to Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture, Katsinam, and The Land will see rich but lesser-known works by O’Keeffe, including fifteen paintings and drawings of Katsina dolls. A guided cell-phone tour of the exhibit is led by co-curator of the show, Carolyn Kastner.  Kastner is the associate curator at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and she co-curated this exhibit together with Barbara Buhler Lynes, former curator of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. With stories about how O’Keeffe grew to love the New Mexico landscapes, and background about the painter’s camping trips and most beloved views, you’ll want to be sure to take advantage of the guided tour.

My favorite O’Keeffe in this exhibit.

One of the many highlights to this collection is the chance to see evidence of O’Keeffe’s creative method of using drawings to outline the structure, the shading, and finally the color of her paintings. The series of the Ranchos Church is not to be missed. Another relatively rare opportunity is to see the actual Katsinam that inspired several of the paintings in this exhibit. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum does not display the Katsinam, which represent Hopi spirit beings, in its own space out of respect for their Native American neighbors.

An exciting treat for O’Keeffe fans is to see so many of her architectural paintings together. Privately owned paintings, like the untitled 1929 watercolor of an adobe house, show the variety of styles and choice of subjects that O’Keeffe used. One of my favorite paintings at the exhibit, Bear Lake, New Mexico, is a powerful and dark painting that my amateurish eye would never have picked out as a Georgia O’Keeffe painting. Those familiar with O’Keeffe’s most popular paintings will recognize her lines and curves in paintings like Rust Red Hills and Black Place II.  Whether you’ve loved O’Keeffe for decades or you are unfamiliar with her work, this exhibit promises to deliver beauty and inspiration.

In stark contrast to the O’Keeffe show is Saya Wookfalk’s multimedia exhibition The Empathics. Despite the deep differences in style – Wookfalk works in digital print, textiles, sculpture, handmade paper, vibrant colors, and video – the science fiction inspired show actually makes for a wonderful companion to O’Keeffe’s paintings because it draws deeply from the Native American influences that also inspired O’Keeffe. The exhibit took over a month to install, and several of the pieces were created right in the Montclair Art Museum. It is on display through January 6, 2013 as part of the New Directions series. Alexandra Schwartz, MAM’s curator of contemporary art, organized The Empathics together with curatorial assistant Kimberly Fisher and with Woolfalk.

Artist Saya Woolfalk

This colorful and just plain fun exhibit draws on sci-fi and fantasy, the playfulness of celebrations, and humor to create a narrative that questions and comments on how different cultures meet, clash, blend, and then develop into new cultures. Woolfalk uses self-made, found, and purchased items to create characters and surroundings that tell the story of how The Empathics – a mythical race of women who blend racial and ethnic identities – change and grow to become enlightened beings. They literally grow a second head to be able to comprehend and absorb different cultures and traditions.

Those of us who love science fiction will appreciate the world Woolfalk creates, and those interested in anthropology and mythology will recognize influences from world-wide cultures. In particular, Woolfalk was influenced by her two years living in Brazil. She explained that the colorful and playful aspects of Carnival appear, and visitors will see that immediately. Many of the pieces are wearable, and they appear in the accompanying videos (both in the exhibit and running on the outdoor screens at MAM). Fashionistas will enjoy the whimsical choices Woolfalk makes with shapes, textures, animals, and color.

The Empathics is beautiful and interesting on its own, but the exhibit’s narrative becomes clear when accompanied by a guided tour. The cell phone tour will help visitors fully appreciate the deeply developed world that Woolfalk has created. She also has a website for the fictional Institute of Empathy to provide background and an interactive experience to enhance the visit.

Both exhibits open today at the Montclair Art Museum.   Starting October 4, 2012, the Museum will be hosting Free First Thursdays Nights, 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. Egan’s is hosting a cash bar, and the exhibits will be open for viewing.

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Montclair, New Jersey 07042-1747
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