“I think we’re a hit!” declared Ilene Susan Fort, associate curator of American Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
She was referring to the impressive opening-night turnout for the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition Tuesday, which drew about 2,000 O’Keeffe admirers into the Hammer galleries for the only West Coast showing of her work.
Guests dressed in warm black tie and furs to brave the elements as they wandered through the open courtyard for the buffet dinner reception. The galleries were crowded early on, affirming O’Keeffe’s enduring popularity and Los Angeles’ current fascination with things Southwestern.
Art patrons gazed upon the 35 oil paintings, watercolors, pastels and charcoals of still lifes, landscapes, flowers and abstractions. Some were even fascinated with the three black-and-white photographs of O’Keeffe that adorned the wall at the beginning of the exhibition.
“We did the show in keeping with what O’Keeffe would have wanted,” Fort explained. “For instance, the walls are not very strongly colored.”
Even the natural colors of the moldings and ropes designed to keep viewers a few inches away from the wall were in keeping with the Southwestern feel.
That wasn’t the only theme touch. The outside of the museum was bathed in a pinkish light and the cuisine was definitely Southwestern: ancho chile quesadillas, shrimp tamales, Indian corn pudding, fritters and bunuelo cups filled with pumpkin mousse and caramel apples.
It was also a family event of sorts. O’Keeffe’s niece, June O’Keeffe Sebring, attended the opening along with her children, Tom Sebring, Crina Bigelow and Karen Sexton.
“It’s so interesting to see the same paintings in a different gallery,” said O’Keeffe Sebring, who had seen the show on tour at other galleries. “I find a different favorite that seems to speak to me.
“One thing my aunt didn’t want was for people to analyze her paintings,” she continued. “She just wanted people to enjoy them. She was sharing her experience with someone else.”
Sexton said this was her first time seeing the works. “The thing that struck me most,” she said after emerging from the galleries, “is how much of her personality was in it, the kind of emotions that come out of it, why she picked one particular part of a flower. These were the things she loved, and that’s why she took the time to paint them and emphasize them.”
Seen milling through the courtyard and galleries were Oliver Stone, Eva Marie Saint and Jeffrey Hayden, museum director Earl A. Powell III and wife, Nancy; board of trustees Chairman Julian Ganz Jr. and wife, Jo Ann; Southwestern Bell Corp. CEO Zane E. Barnes, O’Keeffe estate representative Juan Hamilton, Eddie Albert, board of trustees President Daniel Belin and wife, Daisy; Dona and Dwight Kendall, Keith and Bill Kieschnick, Sheila and Walter Weisman and Anita and Julius Zelman.