For the first time, a huge retrospective exhibition of an iconic American painter, Georgia O’Keeffe, opens at the Art Gallery of Ontario today. The exhibition organized by Tate Modern in London, U.K, travelled to Vienna, Austria and now makes the only North-American stop in Toronto. It features more than 80 artworks, including paintings and photographs of the artist.
O’Keeffe is having a cultural momentum right now, 100 years after her first show in 1917. Not only has she recently conquered Europe, but her art and wardrobe are on display in Brooklyn Museum, and her paintings are on display at a special exhibition in Australia right now. As AGO curator Georgiana Uhlyarik says, O’Keeffe would have loved “being on two hemispheres at the same time.”
The exhibition Georgia O’Keeffe explores connections of the artist’s paintings with locations, architecture, landscapes and photography. It’s divided according to geographical places and her homes, that influenced O’Keeffe, such as New York City, Lake George and New Mexico.
The exhibition starts with charcoal abstractions and ends with abstraction paintings. It also reflects that when O’Keeffe started her career in bohemian circles, she was perceived as “the famous photographer Alfred Stieglitz’s wife” and protege, but now, after a hundred years, she has overshadowed him, and in the exhibition he is regarded as “Georgia O’Keeffe’s husband.”
Central, but not the biggest, part of the showcase is occupied by the most well-known artworks of flowers that made O’Keeffe so famous. Surprisingly, they make up only 10 per cent of her catalogue and the artist actually hated them, but they were cheaper than models and they didn’t move.
Her 1932 Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 painting, which is a star of the show and featured as an emblem of the exhibition, broke records at Sotheby’s in 2014 as the most expensive painting sold at auction by a female artist, and selling for USD$44.4 million. Funnily, O’Keeffe would have hated this accomplishment as well, because she didn’t like being separated as a “female painter”, but considered herself as “the best painter”.
O’Keeffe visited Canada in 1932. Her painting Nature Forms – Gaspé is featured in the exhibition with a quote, “I would have been willing to stay on in Canada if it hadn’t been so terribly cold.”
In New Mexico, where she spent around four decades of her life, O’Keeffe painted not only landscapes of dunes, hills, doors, roads, but also still life of bones, that is a well-known part of her legacy. They were easier to find in a dry climate of deserts. The artist hated Freudistic, symbolic and formally scholarly interpretations of her works. She stated that “the bones do not symbolize death to me. They are shapes that I enjoy … They are very lively.”
Even though her paintings are full of colour, O’Keeffe chose to wear only black and white clothing. She once said that if she had to figure out what colour to wear each day, it would be a waste of time. She was very aware of her carefully constructed public image — photographs of her, taken by her husband, Arthur Stieglitz, and other artists, portray that.
In his recent interview with FAJO, renowned fashion designer Derek Lam discussed that Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings were a source of inspiration for his latest collection. Her paintings, indeed, have a very contemporary feeling, be it their bright and pastel colours, the symbols or the compositions.
Uhlyarik mentioned that every time you go back to O’Keeffe’s paintings “you see something more”.
We highly recommend you check out and get inspired at this AGO exhibition that will run until July 30, 2017.