Georgia O'Keeffe immersive experience is visually stunning

New immersive experience lets eventgoers interact with the legendary artist’s works

The biggest room at Electric Playhouse has images from Georgia O’Keeffe’s flower paintings. The floor reacts when visitors walk over it. (Courtesy of The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum)

Georgia O’Keeffe found inspiration in New Mexico.

The landscapes spoke to her and she told a story through the many brush strokes.

Inside museums, visitors have been able to see the world through O’Keeffe’s eyes.

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum saw an opportunity to work with Albuquerque-based Electric Playhouse to create “Music For The Eyes: A New Georgia O’Keeffe Experience.” The event opened on Friday, Sept. 30 and runs through Nov. 27.

The experience features dozens of O’Keeffe’s paintings – all set in an immersive and interactive space.

“This has really be fun way of engaging a new audience,” says Cody Hartley, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum director. “We’ve known Electric Playhouse for a few years now and they’ve been partners for initial immersive projects for the museum in the past.”

Hartley says the museum staff started with an overall goal that shows the care for O’Keeffe’s artwork.

“We wanted to make sure it was put together in a respectful way,” he says. “We asked how does the immersive environment work to bring a deeper understanding of O’Keeffe’s work. The music is something that she was inspired by and lived with. She made her own desire to create a visual experience.”

Hartley and the museum staff worked for months in creating the new experience with O’Keeffe’s work.

As visitors walk into Electric Playhouse, there is the first room, which is mean to explain the narrative.

It runs about 13 minutes and is broken up into five pieces, explaining different parts of O’Keeffe’s life.

Liz Neely, curator of digital experience at the museum, says the beginning is meant to offer a detailed, yet simple look at O’Keeffe’s life.

“We didn’t want to overwhelm visitors,” Neely says. “This was meant to be the immersive part where you learn more about Georgia and are surrounded by her works. We will have a sign at the front that explains that to visitors. It’s a great jumping off point and then you can explore.”

Neely says throughout the layout of Electric Playhouse there are different areas – which are named nichos – where visitors be able to interact with various O’Keeffe artworks.

This was also a chance for the museum to showcase various works, as O’Keeffe is known more for her flower paintings.

Ariel Plotek, curator of fine arts at the museum, says there are examples such as O’Keeffe’s small watercolor paintings, which are only on display for short periods due to the sensitivity of it all.

“When you see these pieces on the wall, visitors will be able to see the intricacies,” Plotek says. “This is an opportunity for people to see the works in a way we could never display them at the museum. Getting up close and touching them is a new experience.”

Brandon Garrett, CEO and co-founder of Electric Playhouse, enjoys the element of surprise of the experience.

“In some areas, you have static pieces of art,” he says. “An then others, you walk by and it moves with you. We’ve taken this static piece of art and then kind of interpret what it is. I think that’s the magic of when you collaborate with experts. We’ve found ways to make things interactive.”

One of the members of Electric Playhouse’s arsenal is Simone Seagle.

Seagle created many of the interactive pieces in the experience.

“This is by far the biggest project that I’ve worked on,” Seagle says. “I’ve always wanted to take static art and make it come to life.”

One of the pieces is based off the work O’Keeffe created while in Hawaii.

Plotek says O’Keeffe was hired by the Dole pineapple company in 1939 to paint a pineapple for an ad.

“They paid for her to go to Hawaii for three months,” Plotek says. “She was there and was super productive. She painted all these landscapes and flowers. She never painted the pineapple. They had to actually send her one to her studio in New York after she got back. That was her discovery of the place. Flowers she had never seen before. All kinds of inspiration.”

Hartley’s hope for the experience is that it will engage visitors to having an emotional response.

“I hope it inspires people who don’t think of themselves as experts of O’Keeffe,” Hartley says. “To think about her imagery and artwork in a fresh and new way. As she would say, ‘Look closer.’ You’re free of those restrictions.”

With the collaboration with Electric Playhouse, Hartley believes that a new audience will be able to experience the art world.

“Museums try to be accessible and for a lot of reasons, museums don’t feel welcoming,” he says. “This space is welcoming and playful and relaxed. You can get close and create and experience of your own.”

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