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Wonders of the world at Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe

“Above the Clouds I,” 1962-1963, oil on canvas by Georgia O’Keeffe.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As Georgia O’Keeffe traveled, her imagination soared above the clouds.

Visitors to her namesake museum may experience that sensation as they enter “Seeing Beyond” to encounter an interactive, projected, cloudlike presence beneath the artist’s paintings.

Think shades of Meow Wolf on a mesa.

“The Natural World,” a companion exhibition, showcases the rocks, shells, sun-bleached bones and feathers that appeared in both her paintings and sculpture.

The new design offers suggestions of new ways of thinking via the Albuquerque-based firm Electric Playhouse. Curators were partly inspired by the slow art movement, grounded on the premise that one should savor artworks in a conscious and deliberate manner rather than simply gulp each piece down like “eye candy.”

“Word on the street is that most people look at works in art museums for 7 to 12 seconds,” said Liz Neely, the museum’s curator of design experience. “It’s the museum shuffle. We’re trying to break some of that.”

“It is very different for us,” Neely acknowledged. “We’re trying to see the different kinds of experience we can offer and see how they work.”

“Ram’s Head, Blue Morning Glory,” 1938, oil on canvas by Georgia O’Keeffe (Courtesy of The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum)

The gallery features both “Above the Clouds I, 1962-1963” and “Pelvis 4,” in which O’Keeffe painted the blue sky and a faint moon through the bone’s hip opening.

“Instead of just painting the pelvis, she painted herself looking through it,” Neely said.

“Above the Clouds I, 1962-1963,” depicts what resembles steppingstones vanishing into a field of blue sky.

“It’s some of the most sublime of her subjects,” fine art curator Ariel Plotek said. “And these can be quite abstract.”

At more than 3 by 4 feet, “Above the Clouds I” also is one of her most fragile, Plotek said.

“An Island with Clouds” by Georgia O’Keeffe.

“These were not her usual paints,” Plotek said. “The paints had a tendency over the years to lift and slip from the canvas. It makes it susceptible to vibrations. It doesn’t travel.”

In an adjacent gallery, “Travels” explores O’Keeffe’s peripatetic wanderings as a lifelong traveler, enthralled by what she called “the wideness and wonder of the world.”

The death of her husband, photographer/impresario Alfred Stieglitz, in 1946 gave her the freedom to travel internationally to countries such as Peru and Japan.

As she journeyed, O’Keeffe began to concentrate on the novelty of the world as seen from an airplane window seat. At age 73, the artist embarked on a series focusing on the sky above the clouds, the abstract rivers below and vast horizons visible only from the air.

Some of the resulting river paintings resemble tree branches.

A 1939 trip to Hawaii produced a small image of an unidentified island. The Hawaiian Pineapple Co., now called Dole Food Co., had hired O’Keeffe to do promotional work.

“It has a somewhat surreal flair,” Plotek said. “The island looks a little embryonic. It’s in a blue ocean with clouds surrounding it.”

“Untitled (Mount Fuji),” 1960, oil on canvas by Georgia O’Keeffe. (Courtesy of The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum)

Her 1960 painting of Mount Fuji required conservation work. Restorers saw imprints of a hose used in revarnishing the piece.

“The hose somehow got pressed up against the canvas,” Plotek said. “There was a mark there that was distracting. It’s not unusual for a painting to be revarnished; it was a mishap.”

Half a darkened room in “Seeing Beyond” sports a round bench to lure visitors into contemplation.

“We want people to take time to look,” Neely said. “We’re treating these galleries as a kind of laboratory for ourselves. Do people really want as many paintings as they can get in a room?”

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