“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” – Georgia O’Keeffe
I wonder what Georgia O’Keeffe would have made of the New York Port Authority bus terminal this holiday weekend Saturday morning?
In my ongoing project to disrupt my major holiday celebrations by looking anew at their often overlooked fundamentals, I found myself in a Greyhound scrum for the first leg of an epic overland journey to Mexico City via New Orleans.
In some tellings of the Christmas narrative, and especially the ones I find most compelling, Christmas is a refugee story: a young unwed couple is compelled by a distant political force to cross borders using inefficient transportation, and vulnerable to the hospitality of strangers. Indeed, it is the chaotic scarcity in Mary and Joseph’s journey, that God chooses, amongst all the other choices, to crossover from heaven to earth to be with us, Emmanuel.
I’m nowhere near fundamentalist enough to think I could actually follow in the biblical steps of Mary and Joseph and spend Christmas crossing from Israel to Palestine dependent on the hospitality of strangers, especially in today’s political climate, but another border crossing has beckoned: America’s own to the south.
With the exception of a college mission trip to Nuevo Laredo, just across the border, I’ve never been to Mexico. Indeed, I’ve been a little afraid to do so: violence, poverty, chaotic scarcity.
And yet I keep reading about Mexico City: innovative restaurants, exciting cultural institutions, a world-class city on my own continent, utterly other-ed into obscurity.
On this dank, gray Saturday morning in New York, the Port Authority is jammed. Never a paragon of order or elegance, today lines are so long and twisting and many they merge and morph and mass
“Is this line for Baltimore or Richmond?”
“Atlanta,” is the reply, which is good because that’s where I’m going.
There are in fact two lines – both the same? – for Atlanta, and to the right of those is one for Richmond, and all three are so long their ends are the beginnings of the Baltimore lines.
Does it matter that the sign says “Long Island?” A young hispanic man with facial tattoos assures me, it does not. I’ll have to take his word for it, as the only other official looking person I’ve seen is escorting a blind man, and his face unhelpfully communicates simply terror/confusion.
We’ve been standing in line for half an hour. At the time of our scheduled departure, we get our first bit of news, our bus is on the way. . . 45 minutes later, still standing with miraculous calm, order and absolutely no information whatsoever, our bus arrives. We board four by four; line 1, line 2. I’m head of my Line 1 boarding quartet, and as we wait the jolly gatekeeper finds it an auspicious time to mention a man recently flying through the window of a Greyhound bus. . . it’s my turn to board before I can ascertain whether this tale is a rationale for our delay or simply an odd attempt to strike up a conversation. .
[Google searching suggests there is historical precedent for such defenestrations, but none (that I can find) recorded this weekend.)
I embark relatively early and so my impromptu strategy for attracting a desirable seat-mate is to spread out across my extra space materials from the press packet for the Peabody Essex Museum’s current exhibition, Georgia O’Keeffe: Art, Image, Style.
In this way, it’s unlikely anyone will ask me to move my important paperwork, unless they have some reason to comment on it: e.g. maybe there’s an O’Keeffe scholar on board! Or at least someone who saw the exhibition when it was at at the Brooklyn Museum?
Surprisingly, though, this bus is not full and I now find myself with an empty seat as I freely continue my diligent labor unencumbered. . .
The duo in front of me, however. bonded over the Instagram account @Pats.Pants. Apparently, one of them is wearing a pair of pants that looks like Pats, but he actually just got them at Marshalls last night.. . stay tuned!
Born in Wisconsin and trained at the Art Institute of Chicago, O’Keeffe left New York City, and the established American Modernists she had become associated with there, for New Mexico where she lived out her life with great intentionality and completed many of her most iconic works.
The exhibition at PEM is not a retrospective of these best-ofs, and anyone looking for the same will likely be disappointed in this broad overview of O’Keeffe as creator, particularly as expressed through her clothing.
There are paintings to be sure, but also photographs and drawings, and shoes and clothes O’Keeffe bought (from designers like Pucci, Marimekko and Balenciaga that each look remarkably like what O’Keeffe would wear but not much at all like what Pucci, Marimekko or Balenciaga would make) as well as clothes it’s believed O’Keeffe sewed herself.
I found especially powerful experiencing O’Keeffe’s transitions, from the rigidity of her New York work, to the expansiveness and light of her life in New Mexico.
“For more than 70 years, Georgia O’Keeffe shaped her public persona, defied labels and carved out a truly progressive, independent life in order to create her art,” says Austen Barron Bailley, organizing curator and George Putnam Curator of American Art.
It’s not lost on me that there’s some resonance amongst these three threads: my current travels, O’Keeffe’s artistry and the meaning of Christmas.
Confronting fear, setting intentions, crossing over, transforming.
“O’Keeffe drew no line between the art she made and the life she lived,” notes guest curator Wanda M. Corn. “She strove to make her life a complete work of art, each piece contributing to an aesthetic whole.”
Which sounds to me a lot like the part of the Christmas story I’m currently trying to incarnate.
And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid!”
Georgia O’Keeffe: Art, Image, Style
On view at PEM through April 1, 2018