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Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage in Santa Fe

Take a renowned portrait photographer, give her the time and opportunity to shoot some iconic artifacts and unique locations, and you end up with portraiture by proxy. The artist herself says it best: “It’s a big country out there. Go ahead, hit the road and find places and things that inspire and mean something to you.”  How fortunate that Santa Fe has some wonderful results of this advice on display!

An exhibition entitled Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage has just opened at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and it is so worth a visit. The promotion of great women artists has always been part of  the O’Keeffe’s mission, and Ms. Leibovitz was honored in 2010 as one of the Museum’s Women of Distinction. She has returned to the City Different with over 70 works, in an exhibit organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and sponsored in Santa Fe by a grant from The Burnett Foundation.

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Self Portrait © Annie Leibovitz

The exhibit is evocative and unexpected in equal measures. If you follow the curator’s path, you’ll start with a photo of a snake skeleton embedded in a banco at Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and end with an aerial view of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, both representations of a Celtic symbol believed to represent travel from the inner life to the outer soul or higher spirit forms.

The sense of a spiritual journey runs through the whole show, from the places and objects Leibovitz chose to shoot right through to the subtext the viewer intuits from the resulting images. A picture of the worn compass that Thomas Jefferson gave to the Lewis and Clark expedition is positioned across from an amusing shot of a small model of the Lincoln Monument perched alongside the giant foot of the monument itself. John Muir’s notebooks and Charles Darwin’s skeleton of a pigeon shine a light on a few of the curiosities that attract the scientific mind.

John Muir's Notebook, Annie Leibovitz, courtesy of the artist

Annie Leibovitz, John Muir botanical specimen, John Muir National Historic Site, Martinez, California, 2011. © Annie Leibovitz. From “Pilgrimage” (Random House, 2011)

Notable women of history receive their due, with a panorama of a evening gown worn by opera singer, Marian Anderson, placed near a photo of Emily Dickinson’s simple white dress. Eleanor Roosevelt’s quiet domicile, Val-Kill, is full of the furniture she had manufactured. The desk of Virginia Woolf is swept clean, in contrast to the quote from her husband that she was “not merely untidy, but squalid.” In a nod to the artistic feminist past, 19th century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron (who, interestingly, was Virginia Woolf’s great-aunt) is represented by a piece depicting the garden door through which her famous neighbor, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, was able to visit in secrecy (nothing shady, just avoiding his many fans). Both the hard and the soft sides of the famed sharp-shooter, Annie Oakley, are revealed by a bullet hole in the center of a heart.

There are artifacts and architecture of all kinds highlighting other artists, from Martha Graham’s iron gates juxtaposed with Isamu Noguchi’s props to Pete Seeger’s incredibly crowded home workshop to Ansel Adams’ glowing red darkroom. You can turn 180 degrees from a rumination on Sigmund Freud’s couch and see the Graceland graves of Elvis Presley’s family. Bet Freud would have a field day with that!

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Georgia O’Keeffe, Purple Hills Ghost Ranch-2 / Purple Hills No II, 1934. Oil on canvas affixed to Masonite, 16 1/4 x 30 1/4 in. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Gift of The Burnett Foundation © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Of course, the visionary Georgia O’Keeffe herself is acknowledged through photos of her house, her studio daybed and her pastels. And you should definitely allow enough time to head back through the Museum to see Georgia O’Keeffe and and the Faraway: Nature and Image, which will be on display through May 5, 2013.

Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage will be on exhibit at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum through May 5, 2013. This is a pictorial journey worth taking!

 

 

 

 

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