Record Crowds Travel to Winston-Salem for ‘Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern’ at Reynolda House Museum of American Art
Reynolda House Museum of American Art set a record this fall for the highest attended exhibition in its 50-year history with “Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern,” a landmark exhibition featuring the work and personal effects of one of the 20th century’s most beloved artists. The exhibition drew an average of 392 people per day to the museum from Aug. 18 through Nov. 19, 2017, surpassing the previous high established during “Ansel Adams: Eloquent Light” in spring 2016.
In total, nearly 32,000 people viewed “Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern” in its three-month run. Visitors from all 50 states traveled to Winston-Salem to see the exhibition, many taking advantage of overnight packages offered with local accommodation partners. The total attendance was close in number to the museum’s average annual attendance, approximately 38,000, for the last five years.
“This exhibition was scheduled especially for this year – the museum’s 50th anniversary and the estate’s centennial – and it pushed the boundaries of a Reynolda experience in all the best ways,” said Allison Perkins, executive director of Reynolda House. “Our strategy was to accommodate as many visitors as possible without overcrowding the galleries, and we took a risk in limiting our capacities. We wanted to reach as many people as possible, and it was important for the experience of each person to be unhurried, meaningful and memorable – and I think it worked.”
The unique installation at Reynolda – also the largest ever mounted at the museum – was designed to create an ideal viewing experience. More than 190 objects spanned five galleries, including four galleries in former bedrooms of the 30,000 square foot mansion, formerly the home of R. J. Reynolds. Capacities in these small galleries was kept low to allow for an intimate experience for guests viewing Georgia O’Keeffe’s clothing, jewelry, and art.
For the first time, the museum instituted a timed ticketing system for entry to limit the number of guests. Guests were admitted at intervals throughout each day, and could stay as long as they wished. Extended hours until 8 p.m. on Thursdays and until 5:30 p.m. on the final three Sundays helped ease demand but not eliminate it. Advance tickets for “Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern” were sold out several days during the season and sold out entirely during its last 10 days.
Comment books and social media showed responses to the exhibition: “The timed entry was perfect to control the crowd and being there at 10:30 was perfect to be able to read each plaque, study the picture or artwork and really absorb the full experience.” Another visitor commented, “I was mesmerized by this exhibit and how intimate the personal items and images of Georgia O’Keeffe were. It felt as though she was in our presence.”
“This was the perfect exhibition and the perfect artist to mark two milestone moments in Reynolda’s history – the centennial of house and the 50th of its transformation into an art museum,” Perkins said. “Georgia O’Keeffe and Katharine Reynolds were contemporaries, and to be able to fill the spaces of this home with the personal effects of this iconic artist was especially significant for our staff and for the visitors we welcomed to experience it. The support we received from sponsors, local government and tourism agencies, and most of all our members and friends, was overwhelming.”
Forty of O’Keeffe’s works were presented along with personal objects such as jewelry, accessories and garments, some designed and made by the artist herself. The exhibition revealed the artist’s powerful ownership of her public identity and affirms that she embodied the same modern aesthetic in her self-fashioning as in her art. Art critics called the exhibition “visually stunning,” “a must-see,” and “fascinating.”
The museum hosted several groups and events during the season, including a sold-out talk by exhibition curator Wanda Corn in August and a special day-long visit for the entire student body of Chatham Hall, a boarding school in Virginia where O’Keeffe was once a student.
Reynolda House opens its next exhibition, “Frederic Church: A Painter’s Pilgrimage,” Feb. 9, 2018.
“Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern” was organized by the Brooklyn Museum with guest curator Wanda M. Corn, Robert and Ruth Halperin Professor Emerita in Art History, Stanford University. Reynolda House Museum of American Art is grateful for the generous support of the exhibition from Presenting Sponsors Hanesbrands, PNC, and Hawthorn, PNC Family Wealth. Special thanks to Major Sponsors The Cathleen & Ray McKinney Exhibition Fund, Nancy and Ed Pleasants, and Mona and Wallace Wu; Lead Sponsors Pam and Fred Kahl; and Contributing Sponsors Alex.Brown, Chatham Hall, and Macy’s.
Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is recognized as a rare gem among the nation’s cultural institutions. The museum presents an exceptional collection of art by America’s most noted artists in an incomparable setting: the 1917 country home of Katharine and Richard Joshua (R. J.) Reynolds. Spanning 250 years of painting, prints, sculpture, photography and video art, the collection has been guided with the prescient and unerring eye of Barbara Babcock Millhouse, granddaughter of Katharine and R. J. Reynolds. Highlights include important works by Albert Bierstadt, William Merritt Chase, Frederic Edwin Church, Chuck Close, Stuart Davis, Arthur Dove, Martin Johnson Heade, Lee Krasner, Georgia O’Keeffe, Nam June Paik, Martin Puryear, Gilbert Stuart and Grant Wood. In addition to its collection of fine art, Reynolda House holds decorative arts and estate archive collections and mounts exhibitions from all periods in the 2005 Mary and Charlie Babcock Wing. Established in 1967 and now affiliated with Wake Forest University, the museum will mark two anniversaries in 2017—the 50th of its founding and the 100th of the completion of its estate—with major exhibitions and events. The complete Reynolda experience includes Reynolda Gardens, composed of formal gardens, walking trails and wetlands, and Reynolda Village, now an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants in many of the estate’s original buildings. For more information, please visit reynoldahouse.org.