Smell, feel and admire the flowers of Georgia O' Keeffe at Illuminarium's new exhibit

The Illuminarium immersive experience “O’KEEFFE: One Hundred Flowers” opens April 28. (Courtesy of Illuminarium Atlanta)

In the afterword to his book, “Georgia O’Keeffe: One Hundred Flowers,” Nicholas Callaway writes, “Georgia O’Keeffe was not a flower painter. However, she may be the greatest painter of flowers in the history of Western art.” Callaway’s celebrated book shares its title and theme with a new show at Illuminarium along the Eastside Trail of the Atlanta BeltLine. To talk about the latest immersive experience, “O’KEEFFE: One Hundred Flowers,” Callaway joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom along with Illuminarium CEO Alan Greenberg.

Interview highlights:

How O’Keeffe changed the way we look at flowers:

“Her original idea, and she wrote about it, was that people love flowers. People love to hold them up close and look at them, to smell them, maybe to give them to a friend,” said Callaway. “She said, ‘Because the flower is so small that if I painted flowers the way I see them, no one would notice them, because I would paint them small, as a flower is small.’ So she said, ‘I will paint them big so that people will stop and take time to look carefully.’ And that’s exactly what she did, starting in 1919.”

“She took a subject matter that might’ve been an inch or two across, and she made them three feet high, four feet high, and this was a radical idea. And of course, the color she used, no one had ever painted in such riotous colors of pinks and yellows and blues and greens. So the collective impact of the size and the color, but perhaps most of all the emotion that was in the flowers caused an absolute sensation, and they still do today.”

Luxuriating in O’Keeffe’s world with the help of cutting-edge tech:

“When you walk in, it’s a combination of the best projection in the world, the best sound in the world,” explained Greenberg. “We actually have scent, so you’ll actually smell the flowers in the Illuminarium. We have in-floor haptic systems, so you feel it when the music is playing that supports the spectacle. And then you’ll actually interact through our LIDAR technology. You will actually interact with the content itself. It’s quite an amazing experience.”

“LIDAR is the same technology that’s actually used in cars for auto-driving, but we use it in a different way so that when there are flowers, for example, on the floor … as you walk, you will move them around, and you will actually feel a part of the experience. So it actually tracks every single person that’s in the Illuminarium and allows us to do really clever things with interactivity,” said Greenberg. 

Callway’s quest for the “lost” flowers of Georgia O’Keeffe:

“Through my research, I realized that she had painted hundreds of flower paintings that the world had never seen. They’d really only seen a handful. I think the reason was two-fold: one was that they were so popular that most of them were sold and entered into private collections and into museum collections. And also … that she moved past the flowers into the desert landscapes. So I decided I was going to find these,” said Callaway.

“One story I’ll never forget is that … I didn’t have a phone number. I had an address, and I went to the address, knocked on the door, and an elderly lady answered,” Callaway recalled. “I introduced myself and told her that I was publishing this book, and I was looking for this particular painting. And she said, ‘Well, it’s right here on the wall. Would you like to come and see it?’ And it was stories like that; it was wonderful to see that the emotional effects of this work continued; that people were very devoted to these paintings.”

The Illuminarium immersive experience “O’KEEFFE: One Hundred Flowers” opens on April 28. Tickets and more information are available at