Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection features 39 paintings by old and modern masters spanning five centuries. The Microsoft co-founder's collection features a stellar array of big names, and the New Orleans Museum of Art is its only Southern venue. Needless to say, there is a lot to see, but be prepared for a few quirks. The "Seeing Nature" part of the title should be taken very literally, because this show is less about landscapes than it is about how artists have been "seeing nature" over the ages. So Jan Brueghel the Younger's "sense" paintings — such as Sense of Sight (pictured) — are really more about culture. In this painting, the 17th-century Flemish master depicts a gilded gallery with dozens of dazzling artworks surrounding a pale pink muse chatting with an affable cherub in a scene that suggests a fantastical estate sale on Mt. Olympus. What it means is best left to the historians, but it really is amazing.
No less arresting is Georgia O'Keeffe's Black Iris VI, a rhapsodically painted flower with delicately suggestive petals. O'Keeffe's flowers looked less overtly anatomical in the pre-internet age, but now even a Google search for hot water heater parts can turn up views of women's private parts amid the hardware. O'Keeffe's paintings are as gorgeous as ever, but the era of Google's anatomical indiscretions makes them seem more graphic than intended. Even a panoramic Grand Canyon painting by David Hockney can be disorienting, perhaps because his color palette seems derived from Life Savers candies. It seems more cute than awesome, a quality that may cause some to involuntarily flash on Walt Disney while viewing an adjacent Grand Canyon canvas by 19th-century American master Thomas Cole. Like a party where the guest list looked stellar on paper but seemed slightly puzzling in person, this can be a very rewarding viewing experience if you are prepared for a few disorienting surprises.