Pink plumeria, wild ginger and hibiscus don't grow natively on the island of Manhattan, but city dwellers and visitors alike can admire the tropical flora and fauna at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. And now, for the first time since 1940, Georgia O'Keeffe's largely unknown Hawaiian artwork will be on exhibit alongside a living display of the plant types depicted in her paintings and sketches.
During her lifetime, O'Keeffe was one of the most prolific and adored female American painters. Her celebration of the natural living world, in particular the larger-than-life flowers she often painted in New Mexico, garnered great success. In fact, in 2014 her floral still life, "Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1", sold for a record $44.4 million dollars - a number still unmatched by a female painter at auction.
While O'Keeffe's name often conjures images of vividly colorful plant life, her Hawaiian period is still largely unknown. The 20 paintings and sketches on display at the Botanical Garden were all created during the single trip she made to the islands in 1939. During a time when the islands were still a relatively well-kept secret (Hawai'i earned its statehood in 1951), O'Keeffe's representation perfectly reflects the unknown majesty of its environment. Bold, sun-kissed colors and the largesse proportions of each piece draw attention to the unique allure the islands held for the artist during her time there.
Arguably the most enticing element of the exhibit are the live demonstrations the Conservatory has scheduled in theme with the show's subject. Visitors are invited to fully embrace the island spirit during special "Aloha Nights" at the gardens, which include hula performances, lei-making classes, poke trucks and ukulele music. With the sweet smell of the plant-air and the rich cultural events on offer, it's kind of like taking a vacation - without the hassle of TSA.
Whether you're looking for a tropical escape or want to learn more about a cherished master American painter, Visions of Hawai'i is not to be missed. Sport your best sandals, forget the sunscreen, and get lost in mini-paradise.
Visit the 'Visions of Hawai'i' exhibit through Oct. 28, 2018
New York Botanical Garden, 2900 Southern Blvd, Bronx, NY (718) 817-8700, nybg.org.