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'O'Keeffe and Moore' exhibit pairs the work of two iconic modernists

 June 1, 2023 at 1:12 PM PDT

S1: The San Diego Museum of Art is in the process of presenting a major exhibit of the works of painter Georgia O'Keeffe and sculptor Henry Moore. The museum is also in the process of moving forward with a merger that will change how art is shown in Balboa Park. Just last week , CMA and the Museum of Photographic Art , or Mopar , announced they will merge into a single institution later this year. Here with me to talk about the merger and the exhibit are Roxana Velasquez , executive director and CEO of the San Diego Museum of Art. And , Roxanna , welcome.

S2: Thank you , Maureen. Delighted to be again with you and your audience.

S1: And also joining us is Anita Feldman. She's deputy director for cultural affairs and education at the San Diego Museum of Art and curator of the O'Keeffe and Moore Exhibition. Anita , hello.

S3: Hello , Maureen. Thank you.

S1: So , Roxana , the announcement of the merger with Mopar was a surprise to many art lovers.

S2: So yes , it has been in the minds of many people for many years , but actually with us , between us , the new board members , the teams just started in October last October. So I would tell you that from our viewpoint , this is a modern way of doing things. And and the the reason is because we have the same missions and art is photography and we consider photography art. There's no distinction among those two media. And our museum has been , as you have witnessed , collecting increasingly photos and doing exhibitions of photography and more so including photography permanently in our displays.

S1: I wonder , though , how much of this decision was based on funding.

S2: Joining us at SEMA. That's one of the pieces , of course , that that played into this march. But more importantly I would tell you is the way we present art , it is a strategic position to try to unite forces and focus on the strengths. We do have , as you know , a big and large collection at CMA that is almost around 25,000 works of art. We have increased significantly our audiences in the last years. We are about to have more than 400,000 visitors. We have increased our presence of members and the pandemic really affected us all in many ways. But for the CMA concretely and the results on numbers , it has been great. I have to tell you , and we'll talk more about it. But but yes , it is financial from one end , efficient , rising from the other. But I think the important piece is that both institutions share the relevance of bringing to San Diego , to the region , to our different communities , the best art possible. So we are just utilizing the best resources possible.

S1: As I understand it , the photography collection will be housed and exhibited in a new wing of the San Diego Art Museum.

S2: Maureen , it's a great moment for Esma and I would say for San Diego , because the museum also announced recently an expansion. The board has selected the greatest architect , one of the greatest living architects in the world , Norman Foster. So we are seeing in this new wing a space for photography. We were seeing it even before this merged occur , but again , the collection of Mopar for the first year will remain in the same space and we will keep it's our intention to keep the building and utilize the Mopar building as well. For from every point of view , the auditorium , the galleries and we will not intend to completely disappeared. Of course , as with all mergers or acquisitions , there's a transition period and we will analyze and be able to communicate more details in the next two years. But again , our intention is to keep the museum and to include in the new wing a space that will include photography as well.

S1: Anita , let me go to you.

S3: One of the things that the new building will bring our new vault spaces for our storage. So we will create a purpose built photography storage and merge our collections together. At that point , of course , curatorial , there are so many options in terms of creating exhibitions with our collections. We're starting by doing a really in-depth inventory of the collection and intend to put that online so that it's available to the public. So that should be rolling out over the next few months.

S1: I've been speaking about the merger of San Diego Museum of Art with the Museum of Photographic Arts and MoCA in Balboa Park , and we've also talking about a big exhibition. That's just opened at the San Diego Museum of Art. I'm speaking with Roxana Velasquez , executive director and CEO of SDM , and Anita Feldman , who's the curator of that exhibition. So Anita , the museum is showing an exhibition of a well known painter , Georgia O'Keeffe , paired with the works of a slightly lesser known sculptor , Henry Moore.

S3: But. But Moore shared that iconic status for decades. Don't forget , his works are outside almost every major city in the Western world , including Lincoln Center and the National Gallery of Art in Washington , D.C. , the United Nations headquarters , Unesco in Paris. It goes on and on. So I just want to start with that , because he is actually sort of the face of 20th century sculpture , much the same way that Picasso was in painting during his time. But the the the pairing of these two artists is significant because it's never been done before. They've never even been included in the same group exhibitions , even though they lived and worked during the same years. But the reason for uniting them is because they each have these vast collections of found objects which they accumulated over decades and decades during their lives , and they created all these iconic masterpieces of modern art from these objects of nature , from the coils of seashells or from driftwood or from stones that they gathered on the beach or on their walks through sheep fields and through New Mexico and from bones. And they both held up these small objects against the sky , held them in their hands and imagined a whole world through the apertures. So O'Keeffe would hold up a little fox pelvis bone and see the paternal the flat topped mountain through the aperture and the bone , and Moore would hold up his little plaster maquettes. Imagine them any size and photograph them against the sky to play with scale. And so you have these parallels going on in their visions and how they worked.

S1: I think many people are familiar with O'Keeffe's larger than life size flower paintings , but her work , as you're describing it , is a lot more varied than that. Why do you think it is that O'Keeffe has remained such an enduring figure in the art world ? You talk to someone who doesn't know anything about art and they'll probably know about those flower pictures.

S3: Yeah , And the flower pictures they they deserve looking at again , to be honest , because historically , they've always been viewed very sexually. You know , even in Breaking Bad , they were called the vagina paintings. You know , this is this is something that comes out time and time again in which she always refuted. And she said , well , that's what you're seeing. That's not what I'm painting. And and what I'm trying to present in this exhibition is how both artists are looking at arrangements of forms. And it could be the opening of a flower , an external form gradually revealing an internal form and pairing that with sculpture that's doing the same thing. And so you you start developing a way of looking at her paintings as explorations of form and getting away from all of that gender based critical. Looking at her work and seeing it more , you know , as forms of life in relation to each other.


S2: So Georgia O'Keeffe and Henry Moore are two giants , as as Anita just expressed , they were never exhibited before. And we are creating an original discourse , an original way of seeing art. And this has caused the attention of so many media in the world. So for the opening , we had so many visitors from museums in London and Canada and Japan in that week. They were all intrigued by this joint venture , if you will. And and of course for us at the museum , the creation of that catalog. The catalog is a huge book that will be delighted to share with you. It's a huge book with essays of the best researchers and experts in each one of the artists. And I have to tell you that we own our own staff. Anita Feldman. She is one of the biggest experts in the world of Henry Moore. She worked there , so we were delighted to have her create this original project. I think it's very , very important and it's as important as we are exporting , exporting this project to Canada , to the Museum of Fine Arts and to Albuquerque. So since the get go , which was before the pandemic , we were creating this project and many museums around the world were interested in having it. That's one. And to jump into the question , if I may , about Georgia O'Keeffe , it's funny because Georgia O'Keeffe is very well known by the masses , by the audiences , as you say. And my answer is , of course , they are flowers. They are easy to understand. They do not require a lot. But just to let yourself enjoy in that image. And and they are. Yes , very , very like routine. Arie the use of the color , the sizes. But they are an easy understanding work of art. That's one end , one answer. The second answer is that she's an American painter. She's a feminist. She was married to the greatest photography photographer , right. Anita So this creates a story of feminism as well. And she had to go and find her own ways. And she was very close to Frida Kahlo. And each nation , each country has one artist that they choose to be the favorite. And I would tell you that Georgia O'Keeffe , for for the United States , for the American people , represents all of that.

S1: The O'Keeffe and Moore exhibit will be up at the San Diego Museum of Art through August 27th. And I have been speaking with Roxana Velasquez of the San Diego Museum of Art and Anita Feldman , who curated that exhibition. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

S2: Thank you , Maureen. Come to the San Diego Museum of Art and enjoy Georgia O'Keeffe and Henry Moore.

S3: Thank you , Maureen.

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Paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe are shown with a sculpture by Henry Moore at the San Diego Museum of Art on May 30, 2023.
Paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe are shown with a sculpture by Henry Moore at the San Diego Museum of Art on May 30, 2023.

The San Diego Museum of Art is featuring a major exhibit of the works of painter Georgia O’Keeffe and sculptor Henry Moore — two artists whose works have never before been presented alongside each other.

The Museum is also in the process of moving forward with a merger that will change how art is shown in Balboa park, as just last week, the San Diego Museum of Art Museum of Photographic Art announced they will merge into a single institution later this year.


Anita Feldman, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and Education for the San Diego Museum of Art

Roxana Velasquez, Executive Director and CEO for the San Diego Museum of Art