Josephine Halvorson: Contemporary Voices at Santa Fe’s Georgia O’Keeffe Museum offers an intimate view of the Abiquiú desert.
Josephine Halvorson: Contemporary Voices
October 1, 2021–March 28, 2022
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe
At the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, an exhibition of eleven paintings by Josephine Halvorson, the museum’s inaugural artist in residence, is in conversation with oil paintings by O’Keeffe and was thoughtfully curated by Ariel Plotek. The program—an invitation-only residency that’s still taking shape due to pandemic interruptions—hosts artists whose works overlap with O’Keeffe in meaningful ways. Residents have full access to the museum’s archive and spend time working at O’Keeffe’s Abiquiú and Ghost Ranch properties in northern New Mexico.
Josephine Halvorson: Contemporary Voices can be divided into two categories: paintings created on the grounds of O’Keeffe’s homes, and paintings made in the surroundings of Rio Arriba County. What immediately struck me was the intimidating task of sharing space with O’Keeffe’s legacy, an undertaking that Halvorson, who lives in western Massachusetts, succeeds in while sidestepping the trappings of GOK subject matter such as Cerro Pedernal or expansive cloudscapes. Instead, she opens a more intimate window into O’Keeffe’s interests in the ephemera of daily life, whether it be her key collection, rocks found on walks, or dishware.
O’Keeffe’s Dishes, the most orderly of Halvorson’s square compositions, employs a trompe-l’œil effect of neatly stacked dinner plates and bowls with just-right glassy highlights, tidy shadow play in the open cabinet, and a door latch that seems to float in front of the rest of the painting. The artwork is situated in a monochromatic, lavender-field-framing device that Halvorson refers to as surrounds.
All paintings in the exhibition are embedded in different chromatic surrounds, each with corresponding color stories to reflect mood, atmosphere, and other markers of the high-desert landscape. Halvorson’s surrounds share the proportions of Polaroid film and echo the view-finding quality of pelvis-bone holes that O’Keeffe would use to structure her compositions. A special painting contradiction emerges in Halvorson’s attention to light and reflection of rendered subject matter while her medium—acrylic gouache with a secret recipe of site materials—creates a decidedly matte surface and a faint shimmer of mica best seen in person—it’s probably difficult to capture in reproductions. This surface materiality is true of all works in the exhibition.
While the pandemic delayed the exhibition’s start date, it afforded Halvorson time to return to Abiquiú the following summer to paint what I see as an epilogue to her residency with the museum. Halvorson, celebrated for plein air paintings of everyday life, meditates on larger themes specific to the region while also finding a way to touch on our new reality in the throes of a global pandemic.
In Ku’uinge Pueblo Pottery Fragments, the artist shifts her attention to layers of ancestral Puebloan culture, which resided in northern New Mexico long before O’Keeffe’s arrival, with a painting of pottery fragments in situ with rich indigo shadows. Sticks, a densely layered, found pile of bleached cottonwood branches, is as visually complicated as the grief it implies, a memorial for the artist’s father who had recently died of COVID-19. National Forest Sign with Bullet Holes, a tightly cropped and veristic rendering of the iconic, retro trapezoidal National Forestry signs, is complete with said bullet holes and captures the remoteness of a place.
Josephine Halvorson: Contemporary Voices offers the audience moments of stillness, solace, and a lesson in the value of close looking. It’s scheduled to remain on view through March 28, 2022 at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, 217 Johnson Street, Santa Fe.