First Major Survey of Georgia O’Keeffe Cityscapes Opens June 2

Georgia O’Keeffe: “My New Yorks” at the Art Institute of Chicago examines the American Modernist’s lesser-known Manhattan scenes.

May 31, 2024By Emily Snow, MA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial Studies
East River from the 30th Story of the Shelton Hotel by Georgia O’Keeffe, 1928. Source: New Britain Museum of American Art.


Georgia O’Keeffe once said, “One can’t paint New York as it is, but rather as it is felt.” The first major exhibition to focus on the American Modernist’s Manhattan cityscapes opens on Sunday, June 2 at the Art Institute of Chicago. Georgia O’Keeffe: “My New Yorks” examines the artist’s paintings, drawings, and pastels from her time as a New Yorker, situating this lesser-known segment of O’Keeffe’s work within her daringly experimental artistic development.


Georgia O’Keeffe Painted More Than Flowers

Radiator Building—Night, New York by Georgia O’Keeffe, 1927. Source: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
Radiator Building—Night, New York by Georgia O’Keeffe, 1927. Source: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.


Before settling in Taos, New Mexico in 1929, Georgia O’Keeffe lived in New York City for about five years. During this period, she created over two dozen scenes of the Manhattan skyline—which might come as a surprise to those who primarily associate O’Keeffe with her iconic flower paintings. Her vibrant urban compositions do not aim to document the city objectively or touristically. Rather, they explore O’Keeffe’s own intricate observations and personal experiences whilst blurring the lines between realism and abstraction.


O’Keeffe’s “New Yorks” are neither her most abundant or most familiar works, but they are significant because they showcase her artistic versatility and early-career experimentation with perspective and form. One of the exhibition’s two curators, Sarah Kelly Oehler, explained, “It was [us] really starting to think about that gap of understanding, the lack of awareness that many of our visitors have about O’Keeffe’s very important early career in the 1920s, before she goes to the Southwest. So, it felt like an opportunity to get into this crucial moment and really get into these paintings.”


This Hotel Painting Inspired the Exhibition

The Shelton with Sunspots, N.Y. by Georgia O’Keeffe, 1926. Source: Art Institute of Chicago.


After Georgia O’Keeffe married the photographer and art dealer Alfred Stieglitz, the couple moved into The Shelton Hotel, a 34-story skyscraper that, at the time, was the world’s tallest hotel. O’Keeffe frequently returned to the residential hotel on Lexington Avenue for the next decade, sometimes living there seasonally. The artist’s 1926 painting of her Manhattan residence, which belongs to the Art Institute of Chicago, first inspired curators to develop the Georgia O’Keeffe: “My New Yorks” exhibition. The Shelton with Sunspots, N.Y. depicts a pedestrian’s perception of the towering, luxurious building, which is partially obscured by direct sunlight. A smattering of geometric sunspots and stylized clouds of mist demonstrate O’Keeffe’s keen interest in the interplay of natural and constructed environments.

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O’Keeffe and the Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago. Source: Chicago Architecture Center.


The Art Institute of Chicago has enjoyed a long-lasting relationship with Georgia O’Keeffe, who attended its school before moving to New York. Today, the museum’s collection boasts twenty of her paintings, including the monumental 1965 canvas Sky above Clouds IV, as well as three drawings. However, before this year, O’Keeffe had not been the subject of an Art Institute solo exhibition for nearly four decades. Georgia O’Keeffe: “My New Yorks” is open to the public from June 2 to September 22, 2024. After its Chicago run, the exhibition will go on view at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta from October 25, 2024 to February 16, 2025.

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By Emily SnowMA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial StudiesEmily Snow is a contributing writer and art historian based in Amsterdam. She earned an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and loves knitting, her calico cat, and everything Victorian.