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Jaune Quick-to-See Smith at Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe

Jaune Quick-to-see-Smith at Georgia O’Keeffe Museum 217 Johnson Street Santa Fe NM

It’s actually hard to remember back before the O’Keeffe Museum was here. Of course, the Santa Fe lightbulb joke asks how many Santa Feans it takes to change a lightbulb (Answer: three, one to do it and two to reminisce about how it used to be!). But, truly, a trip to the O’Keeffe is so ingrained in a Santa Fe visit now, that it seems like the museum has always been here….and for that we are very grateful.

Georgia On My Mind, Oil 1986, Collection of Yellowstone Art Museum

We are also grateful that the O’Keeffe continues to highlight the work of contemporary women artists, a commitment that one imagines O’Keeffe herself would approve. On January 26, the fourth exhibition of the Living Artists of Distinction series, entitled “Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Landscapes of an American Modernist,” opened in the rear galleries of the museum. How perfect that exhibit shows that Smith had Georgia on her mind!

The Great Divide, Oil 1987; Collection of St. Paul Travelers

A Native American artist from the Salish band of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai nation of the Northwest, Ms. Smith was born in 1940, received an M.A. at the University of New Mexico, and is a familiar presence to art-going public of the Southwest. Her modernist impulse is played out in active brushwork and expressive imagery, vastly different from O’Keeffe’s technique, but still posssessing that same sense of place found in the still landscapes painted by O’Keeffe.

Like O’Keeffe, Smith works in a variety of media, and the pastels and oils on display present a compelling demonstration of her abilities. ┬áThe artist says, “My work comes from a visceral place – deep, deep…,” and the work says so.

Trees are Burning, Pastel 1991; Courtesy LewAllen Contemporary

No doubt, viewers will have favorites.  The pastels appear more restrained, both in palette and and activity, while the large oil paintings feel agitated and full of color. I found myself in reverie by the Wallowa Water Hole pastels, with their more limited palette and simple lines. And I enjoyed the contrast of colors between two large canvases, Playground, which is painted in the primary, clear colors to which children most easily respond, juxtaposed against the lively Great Divide, soaked in the rich pinks and turqouise associated with our desert landscape.

Playground, Oil 1987; Private Collection

When I viewed the show, I headed directly to the galleries, so as to see the work with fresh eyes, then wandered back through the O’Keeffe’s. One of the things that is so enjoyable about these exhibits is how they make one notice different O’Keeffe works that one my not have been pulled to previously. After spending time in the Smith exhibit, a deceptively simple O’Keeffe watercolor and graphite piece from 1918, House with Tree – Green, suddenly drew me to a halt. Fresh eyes are a good thing!

Go see the Jaune Quick-to-See Smith show…it’s up until April 29, so you can make more than one trip and discover for yourself the pleasures of this small museum and its big mission.

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