Arthur Dove

Every Which Way But Up

When installing a painting or sculpture for exhibition, determining the correct orientation of the work is (perhaps obviously) paramount. When discussing modern art, a seemingly simple question like “Which side is up?” can become much more complicated; and occasionally when dealing with abstract art, this determination can be downright perplexing.

Two paintings recently reinstalled in Gallery 50 at the de Young have raised this question for years. Since they first arrived at the Museums, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Petunias and Arthur Dove’s Sea Gull Motive have puzzled viewers and art historians alike.

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887–1986). Petunias, 1925. Oil on hardboard panel. Museum purchase, gift of the M. H. de Young Family. 1990.55. © Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

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