Cross Currents: Georgia O’Keeffe and the Perfect Pineapple

Five Georgia O’Keeffe paintings in the current exhibition, Cross Currents: Modern Art from the Sam Rose and Julie Walters Art Collection, create a mini exhibition in themselves. Beautifully rendered in her undeniable palette, they are naturescapes or deeply realized meditations on the natural world. Even when the scene is a window ledge in Manhattan with the view of a tall building and smokestacks, the focus is on the pink rim of a dish indoors that holds green leaves.

The natural world is wherever she made it. O’Keeffe wrote about “the wideness and the wonder of the world as I live in it,” and we are all the richer for the lens she used to see and interpret the world.

In the late 1930s, O’Keeffe’s reputation was solid, and everyone was making demands on her for her work. In 1939, even the Dole Pineapple Company came calling. The timing was fortuitous. Would she spend time in Hawaii and create paintings of pineapples that could be used in an advertising campaign?

Over the course of nine weeks she visited Maui, Oahu, and the big island of Hawaii, and spent time in the dramatic landscape of Kauau, known for its gorges, waterfalls, and tropical flowers. Twenty paintings came out of her sojourn in Hawaii, including Hibiscus with Plumeria. The sensual flowers are seen in close-up, with the blue Hawaiian sky as a backdrop.

O’Keeffe got so wrapped up in her other work that she didn’t paint the pineapple for Dole. When she returned to New York City, a package arrived at her apartment: Dole had flown a pineapple from Hawaii to New York. Apparently, a pineapple from a New York City grocery store would not do the trick. O’Keeffe would complete her assignment for the advertisement back in the Manhattan, the furthest you could possibly go from the exotic world of Hawaii. And as we saw in her earlier work of the dish with the pink rim, the natural world was wherever O’Keeffe wanted it to be.

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