18
Mar
10

Exhibition: ‘Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstraction’ at The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.

Exhibition dates: 6th February – 9th May 2010

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Grey Blue & Black - Pink Circle' 1929

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Grey Blue & Black – Pink Circle
1929
Oil on canvas
36 x 48 in. (91.4 x 121.9 cm)
Dallas Museum of Art
Gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation

 

 

Many thankx to Shira Pinsker and The Phillips Collection for allowing me to reproduce the images in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

For an excellent analysis of the convergences between Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams see Geneva Anderson’s review Masters of the Southwest: Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams Natural Affinities.

Marcus

 

 

“It is surprising to me to see how many people separate the objective from the abstract. Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or a tree. It is lines and colours put together so that they say something. For me that is the very basis of painting. The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint.”

“I long ago came to the conclusion that even if I could put down accurately the thing that I saw and enjoyed, it would not give the observer the kind of feeling it gave me. I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at – not copy it.”

.
Georgia O’Keeffe, 1976

 

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Flower Abstraction' 1924

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Flower Abstraction
1924
Oil on canvas
48 x 30 in.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
50th Anniversary Gift of Sandra Payson
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Jack-in-the-Pulpit No. IV' 1930

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Jack-in-the-Pulpit No. IV
1930
Oil on canvas
40 x 30 in.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Alfred Stieglitz Collection, Bequest of Georgia O’Keeffe
Image courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington

 

 

Wall text from the exhibition

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) is fixed in the public imagination as a painter of places and things. She has long been recognised for her still lifes of flowers, leaves, animal bones and shells, her images of Manhattan skyscrapers, and her Lake George and New Mexico landscapes. Yet it was with abstraction that O’Keeffe entered the art world and first became celebrated as an artist. In the spring of 1916, she burst onto the New York art scene with a group of abstract charcoal drawings that were among the most radical works produced in the United States in the early twentieth century. As she expanded her repertoire in the years that followed to include watercolour and oil, she retained the fluid space and dynamic, organic motifs of these early charcoals.

Abstraction dominated O’Keeffe’s output in the early part of her career and remained a fundamental language for her thereafter. Some of her abstractions have no recognisable source in the natural world; others distill visible reality into elemental, simplified forms. For O’Keeffe, abstraction offered a way to portray what she called the “unknown” – intense thoughts and feelings she could not express in words and did not rationally understand. Her abstractions recorded an array of emotions and responses to people and places. At the heart of her practice was an affinity for the flux and sinuous rhythms of nature. Through swelling forms and sumptuous colour, O’Keeffe depicted the experience of being in nature – so enveloped by its sublime mystery and beauty that awareness of all else is suspended.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Early Abstraction' 1915

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Early Abstraction
1915
Charcoal on paper
24 x 18 5/8 in. (61 x 47.3 cm)
Milwaukee Art Museum
Gift of Jane Bradley Pettit Foundation and The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation
Photography by Malcolm Varon
© Milwaukee Art Museum

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Blue II' 1916

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Blue II
1916
Watercolour on paper
27 7/8 x 22 1/4 in. (70.8 x 56.5 cm)
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Gift, The Burnett Foundation
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Untitled (Abstraction/Portrait of Paul Strand)' 1917

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Untitled (Abstraction/Portrait of Paul Strand)
1917
Watercolour on paper
12 x 8 7/8 in. (30.5 x 22.5 cm)
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Gift, The Burnett Foundation
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

The artistic achievement of Georgia O’Keeffe is examined from a fresh perspective in Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstraction, a landmark exhibition debuting this winter at The Phillips Collection. While O’Keeffe (1887-1986) has long been recognised as one of the central figures in 20th-century art, the radical abstract work she created throughout her long career has remained less well-known than her representational art. By surveying her abstractions, Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstraction repositions O’Keeffe as one of America’s first and most daring abstract artists. The exhibition, one of the largest of O’Keeffe’s work ever assembled, goes on view February 6 – May 9, 2010.

Including more than 125 paintings, drawings, watercolours, and sculptures by O’Keeffe as well as selected examples of Alfred Stieglitz’s famous photographic portrait series of O’Keeffe, the exhibition has been many years in the making.

While it is true that O’Keeffe has entered the public imagination as a painter of sensual, feminine subjects, she is nevertheless viewed first and foremost as a painter of places and things. When one thinks of her work it is usually of her magnified images of open flowers and her iconic depictions of animal bones, her Lake George landscapes, her images of stark New Mexican cliffs, and her still lifes of fruit, leaves, shells, rocks, and bones. Even O’Keeffe’s canvasses of architecture, from the skyscrapers of Manhattan to the adobe structures of Abiquiu, come to mind more readily than the numerous works – made throughout her career – that she termed abstract.

This exhibition is the first to examine O’Keeffe’s achievement as an abstract artist. In 1915, O’Keeffe leaped into the forefront of American modernism with a group of abstract charcoal drawings that were among the most radical creations produced in the United States at that time. A year later, she added colour to her repertoire; by 1918, she was expressing the union of abstract form and colour in paint. First exhibited in 1923, O’Keeffe’s psychologically charged, brilliantly coloured abstract oils garnered immediate critical and public acclaim. For the next decade, abstraction would dominate her attention. Even after 1930, when O’Keeffe’s focus turned increasingly to representational subjects, she never abandoned abstraction, which remained the guiding principle of her art. She returned to abstraction in the mid 1940s with a new, planar vocabulary that provided a precedent for a younger generation of abstractionists.

Abstraction and representation for O’Keeffe were neither binary nor oppositional. She moved freely from one to the other, cognisant that all art is rooted in an underlying abstract formal invention. For O’Keeffe, abstraction offered a way to communicate ineffable thoughts and sensations. As she said in 1976, “The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint.” Through her personal language of abstraction, she sought to give visual form (as she confided in a 1916 letter to Alfred Stieglitz) to “things I feel and want to say – [but] havent [sic] words for.” Abstraction allowed her to express intangible experience – be it a quality of light, colour, sound, or response to a person or place. As O’Keeffe defined it in 1923, her goal as a painter was to “make the unknown – known. By unknown I mean the thing that means so much to the person that he wants to put it down – clarify something he feels but does not clearly understand.”

This exhibition and catalogue chronicle the trajectory of O’Keeffe’s career as an abstract artist and examine the forces impacting the changes in her subject matter and style. From the beginning of her career, she was, as critic Henry McBride remarked, “a newspaper personality.” Interpretations of her art were shaped almost exclusively by Alfred Stieglitz, artist, charismatic impresario, dealer, editor, and O’Keeffe’s eventual husband, who presented her work from 1916 to 1946 at the groundbreaking galleries “291”, the Anderson Galleries, the Intimate Gallery, and An American Place. Stieglitz’s public and private statements about O’Keeffe’s early abstractions and the photographs he took of her, partially clothed or nude, led critics to interpret her work – to her great dismay – as Freudian-tinged, psychological expressions of her sexuality.

Cognisant of the public’s lack of sympathy for abstraction and seeking to direct the critics away from sexualised readings of her work, O’Keeffe self-consciously began to introduce more recognisable images into her repertoire in the mid-1920s. As she wrote to the writer Sherwood Anderson in 1924, “I suppose the reason I got down to an effort to be objective is that I didn’t like the interpretations of my other things [abstractions].” O’Keeffe’s increasing shift to representational subjects, coupled with Stieglitz’s penchant for favouring the exhibition of new, previously unseen work, meant that O’Keeffe’s abstractions rarely figured in the exhibitions Stieglitz mounted of her work after 1930, with the result that her first forays into abstraction virtually disappeared from public view.”

Text from the Phillips Collection website [Online] Cited 15/03/2010 no longer available online

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Music, Pink and Blue No. 2' 1918

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Music, Pink and Blue No. 2
1918
Oil on canvas, 35 x 29 1/8 in. (88.9 x 74 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Gift of Emily Fisher Landau in honour of Tom Armstrong
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Series I - No. 3' 1918

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Series I – No. 3
1918
Oil on board
20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
Milwaukee Art Museum
Gift of Jane Bradley Pettit Foundation and The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation
Photography by Larry Sanders
© Milwaukee Art Museum

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Series I, No. 4' 1918

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Series I, No. 4
1918
Oil on canvas
20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich
Gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Abstraction White Rose' 1927

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Abstraction White Rose
1927
Oil on canvas
36 x 30 in. (91.4 x 76.2 cm)
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Gift, The Burnett Foundation and The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Black Place II' 1944

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Black Place II
1944
Oil on canvas
36 x 40 in. (91.4 x 101.6 cm)
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Gift, The Burnett Foundation
© 1987, Private Collection

 

 

The Phillips Collection
1600 21st Street, NW, Washington, D.C., near the corner of 21st and Q Streets, NW

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm, with extended evening hours on Thursdays until 8.30 pm, and on Sundays from 12 pm to 6 pm.

Phillips Collection website

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4 Responses to “Exhibition: ‘Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstraction’ at The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.”


  1. 1 Kerry Riley
    July 6, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    Please keep me up-to-date about this site.

    • 2 bunyanth
      July 7, 2010 at 6:40 am

      Hi Kerry
      Thankyou for your kind comments
      You can subscribe to the blog by clicking on the RSS feed button (top of right hand column of blog – the ornage and grey button) and then clicking on ‘Subscribe in mail’ bottom right of the next screen. Then when new posts come out you receive the post in an email
      Regards,
      Marcus

  2. 3 Kerry Riley
    July 6, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    Her comment, “I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at – not copy it,” reminds me of Picasso’s comment that he doesn’t copy nature, he works like nature — or something to that effect.

    Great site!

  3. 4 Barnaby
    March 18, 2010 at 11:55 am

    Really captivating work. She must have inspired countless abstractionists.


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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