Georgia O'Keeffe Museum launches $75 million expansion

Oct. 28—The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum is embarking on what it says is the most expensive privately funded project by a cultural institution in the history of New Mexico.

The museum held a kickoff event Saturday to celebrate the launch of its $75 million expansion. A new building and nearly an acre of green space are slated to replace the museum's Education Annex at 123 Grant Ave. in downtown Santa Fe, where Saturday's "Party in the Parking Lot" was held.

"It is going to really transform New Mexico [and] Santa Fe," said museum Board of Trustees Chairman David Warnock.

To date, donors from all over the world have raised 80% of the total cost, or over $60 million.

U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, who spoke at the event, hailed the museum as "one of the only museums in the world of this significance dedicated to a woman.

"¡Que vivan las mujeres!" she cheered, to applause from a small audience, saying O'Keeffe "knew how to read" New Mexico's big skies and beautiful landscapes.

The museum will begin dismantling the Education Annex later this year or in early 2024, museum director Cody Hartley said in an interview. Local architect Devendra Contractor's team will design the new 54,000-square-foot adobe building, which will have one level partially underground and one at ground level, Hartley said.

The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum has long needed more space to "showcase, conserve, repair and store" its collection, Hartley said.

"Like many institutions in Santa Fe, our museum had a small beginning with big aspirations," he said, adding that its founders had barely enough art to cover the walls. Founder Anne Marion, who passed away in 2020, "willed the museum into existence ... with the idea of expansion already in mind," Hartley said.

Twenty-six years later, "we are literally bursting at the seams," he said.

The museum's collection includes 140 oil paintings, 120 watercolors, hundreds of sketches, thousands of photographs and tens of thousands of objects relating to O'Keeffe's life, from her paintbrushes to her kitchenware, plus an archive and library, he said. The museum's archive, research center, offices and galleries are currently spread out across four different buildings in Santa Fe.

The expansion will consolidate the public-facing features of the museum — the galleries and classrooms — in the new building, while the museum will keep the other buildings for offices and its research center.

The project will also nearly triple the museum's gallery space to 18,000 square feet, which will allow the museum to "deeply tell the story of O'Keeffe's art, life and legacy," Hartley said in an interview.

"We will really be foregrounding O'Keeffe's experience in New Mexico and telling a story about this place as much as about her as an individual," he said. "To me, that's been a really important part of this project. ... We want to be able to tell the story of both her art and her life."

In the process of the expansion, the museum will also spend time excavating the site of 123 Grant Ave.

It is the ancestral land of the Tesuque Pueblo, which became part of the royal presidio, or Santa's Fe military fortification, after the founding of the city. It then served as officers' quarters for Fort Marcy in the late 19th century.

Starting in 1941, the building became home to a Safeway grocery store for nearly 50 years, which is likely where O'Keeffe herself shopped, Hartley said. It has held offices and classrooms for the museum since the museum's founding in 1997.

The transformation, Hartley said, will be a "stark contrast from what we're looking at today."