Aloha Nights! Georgia O’Keeffe’s Hawaii at the New York Botanical Garden

Visitors to the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) in the Bronx witnessed the beauty that inspired iconic artist Georgia O’Keeffe—and that was captured by her artwork after a visit to the Hawaiian Islands. This ambitious exhibit was called Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai’i.

The 250-acre New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) in the Bronx is a virtual museum without walls—one whose permanent and temporary exhibitions change with the seasons. Some of the most anticipated events are those held on spring and summer evenings, when the crowds are fewer, evening breezes cool the air, and incredible tales come alive, woven through curated exhibits. Aloha Nights offers one of these special opportunities.

The backstory: An advertising gig

Pineapple memorabilia on display
Vintage pineapple memorabilia on display

In 1939, an advertising company invited Georgia O’Keeffe to travel from New York City to Hawaii to produce paintings that could be used to promote the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (which later became the Dole Food Company).

O’Keeffe studied the tropical landscapes and plants she found on the Hawaiian Islands and produced more than 20 paintings and sketches. After her return in 1940, these works were exhibited at An American Place, Alfred Stieglitz’s New York Gallery.

O’Keeffe’s work received critical acclaim for capturing the sense of place in the Hawaiian Islands. Two of the paintings she produced were eventually used in advertisements, one of a heliconia and the other of a pineapple bud.

The exhibit

Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai’i at the NYBG had four major components inspired by the iconic artist’s nine-week 1939 visit:

  • The stunning Enid A. Haupt Conservatory houses an installation of the tropical plants that inspired the artist’s work in Hawaii. The variety of flora displayed showcased the biological diversity of the Hawaiian Islands.
Inside the Conservatory
Inside the Conservatory
Some of the flowers and plants on display at the NYBG
Some of the flowers and plants on display at the NYBG
  • The LuEsther T. Mertz Library Art Gallery held an extraordinary exhibition of 17 O’Keeffe paintings, borrowed from private and museum collections, that hadn’t been seen as a group since their 1940 New York debut.
  • Also on display (although they paled in comparison to the spectacular paintings) were manuscripts, maps, and other artifacts from the same time as the artist’s stay in Hawaii.
Exterior of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Art Gallery
Exterior of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Art Gallery
Hibiscus with Plumeria (on loan from the Smithsonian)
Hibiscus with Plumeria (on loan from the Smithsonian)
  • Along the winding paths lush with greenery and flowers, visitors found contemporary lanterns and sculptures by Mark Chai, which the plants of Hawaii also inspired.
One of the lanterns illuminating a path
One of the lanterns illuminating a path
  • Finally, an exhibit called “A Closer Look” offered art and science activities for children and youth.

Aloha Nights

During our visit, the dancing instructor prefaced his lesson by explaining that Aloha means hello, goodbye and “I Love You.”

At an outdoor lei-making booth, a native Hawaiian explained how to make the traditional necklaces with fresh orchids that are so closely associated with Hawaiian hospitality.

Lei-making lesson
Lei-making lesson

An interactive Media Guide with free Wi-Fi, used via smartphone, offered details to help visitors better understand the scope of what they were seeing and experiencing.

Signage explaining the interactive guide
Signage explaining the interactive guide

Aloha Nights: Bottom line

Whether your interests are focused on art, plants, travel and/or culture, Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai’i at the New York Botanical Garden was a memorable New York experience, held in an exquisite setting—especially on Aloha Nights.

Tropical flowers in the Conservatory
Tropical flowers in the Conservatory

Disclosure: The author was a guest of the New York Botanical Garden at an event sponsored by the Society of American Travel Writers. 


Additional information on the O’Keeffe Exhibit from the NYBG Curator


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  1. I missed the New York Botanical Garden when I was there – pity because it looks well worth a visit. Especially now, with the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit.

  2. Coincidentally, we just spent the weekend with some college friends in Brooklyn, one of whom also visited the Botanical Garden and pronounced it wonderful. Despite being absolutely hopeless at keeping plant life alive ourselves, we seek out botanical gardens whenever we can on our trips. I never expected to add a visit to a botanical garden to my list of things to do in Gotham, but I think we clearly need to remedy that.

  3. This looks beautiful, and on a summery evening, it should be fabulous! Love your photos and the website’s new look…beautiful!

  4. I love visiting botanical gardens whenever I go! The Georgia O’Keefe exhibit would be lovely to see, too… Love your photos!

  5. This Georgia O’Keeffe: Hawai’i show sounds fabulous! Wish I could make a visit to see it at the New York Botanical Garden, which is also on my travel to-do list. I wonder if it will travel to other venues?

  6. Superb…Her Santa Fe museum was a delight & I must enjoy all this beauty as well!
    Dee Parks, Bend, Or

  7. My parents used to take my sisters and me on an outing to the Bronx once a year from our home in Connecticut. We wanted to see the Bronx Zoo; they wanted to see the Botanical Gardens. Being three against two, we usually won. I just couldn’t appreciate it as a child, but I certainly would now. I’ll add it to my list for my next visit to New York.

  8. Dear Riverdale Press- I enjoyed your article describing the display of 1939 Hawaiian paintings by Georgia O’keefe at the Bronx Botanical Gardens, but was surprised that Ms. Moustakas didn’t mention the Riverdale connection. After viewing the series of paintngs in the L.T. Mertz Library Art Gallery, my wife and I were directed into the library anteroom, which was filled with botanical specimens and other artifacts relating to the Hawaiian Islands. Among the glass display cabinets was a preserved Pineapple. As is scientific botanical custom, the specimen had a display card indicating common name, scientific name, date, and location of collection. The source was none other than our own local fruit purveyor, Garden Gourmet Market, 5665 Broadway, Riverdale, New York 10463.

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