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Museum’s iconic O’Keeffe out on loan to European institutions

Call it the boomerang cross.

Careful viewers in the Albuquerque Museum’s “Common Ground” gallery will notice the absence of Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Gray Cross with Blue” (1929) this month.

“Gray Cross with Blue,” Georgia O’Keeffe, 1929. (Courtesy of The Albuquerque Museum)

The iconic, early oil on canvas is on its way to a survey exhibition in Paris, Madrid and Basel, Switzerland.

“Then it will go to more of a U.S. tour in an exhibition with the San Diego Museum of Art,” curator Josie Lopez said.

The famous work won’t return to Albuquerque until the summer of 2022.

The museum’s sole O’Keeffe painting is among its most popular pieces to be loaned out, along with works by Judy Chicago and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Lopez said.

“Gray Cross with Blue” was one of the first pieces O’Keeffe painted when she came to New Mexico in 1929. The artist was staying at Mabel Dodge Luhan’s Taos home at the time.

The crosses O’Keeffe spotted, then painted, were likely placed in the high desert by the Penitentes.

The Penitentes are a Catholic religious society.

O’Keeffe reacted strongly to the Indigenous spirituality of New Mexico’s dry landscape. She wrote: “I saw the crosses so often – and often in unexpected places – like a dark veil of the Catholic Church spread over the New Mexico landscape … I painted a light cross that I often saw on the road near Alcalde. I looked for it recently, but it is not there … For me, painting the crosses was a way of painting the country.”

More than any other artist, O’Keeffe’s work would come to influence the way the rest of the world saw New Mexico.

When an institution borrows a painting, they typically agree to pay for crating and shipping costs, as well as insurance. Lopez declined to reveal the acquisition costs of the painting as well as its insurance value.

“How would you replace an O’Keeffe?” she asked. “You just can’t. It is definitely one of our more valuable” pieces. “It was a major purchase for the museum. They were very creative in putting together the funding.”

The O’Keeffe has traveled in other U.S. and European tours. One of the European tours was organized by London’s Tate Gallery. The Brooklyn Museum of Art organized an exhibition that traveled in the U.S.

The museum bought the painting in 1983 and 1989 through a combination of general obligation bonds, the Albuquerque Museum Foundation and donations.

Curators have added several new works to the “Common Ground” section, including pieces by the Taos Modernist Earl Stroh, ceramics by Diego Romero, Quick-to-See Smith’s “Court House Steps,” a Roxanne Swentzell sculpture, bead artist Teri Greeves’ “Rez Pride/Rez Girls” beaded shoes, and works by Gronk, Rufino Tamayo, Eddie Dominguez, Patrick Nagatani, Frank McCulloch, Karsten Creightney, Bob Haozous, Chicago, Josef Albers, Tina Fuentes, Clinton Adams, Fritz Scholder, Gustave Baumann and more.

“Not only are we stewards of the collection, we’re stewards of these stories,” Lopez said. “It becomes a great way to make connections with these other cities. It really has been a treasure to have (the O’Keeffe) at the Albuquerque Museum.”

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