Thoroughly Modern Georgia O’Keeffe
THE NEW SHOW Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern at the Brooklyn Museum represents something of a return home for the artist—it is where she had her first solo museum exhibition in 1927. The focus of this new exhibition, however, is not merely her paintings. It is also the first major study of her belongings—such as clothing, jewelry, and ephemera—none of which have been displayed before. Also included are numerous photographs of O’Keeffe taken over the course of her lifetime, which, in conjunction with her distinctive style of dress, played an important role in constructing her public identity. Part art exhibit, part biography, and part exploration of material culture, Living Modern aims to show O’Keeffe not only as an artist, but as a woman.
The exhibition progresses chronologically, presented in four parts. The first, covering the beginning of her artistic career in New York in the 1920s and ‘30s, explores her life with photographer Alfred Stieglitz and the series of portraits he produced of her over the course of decades. Following this is a section on her time in New Mexico, one of the greatest influences on her work as a painter. After a smaller third section exploring how Asian aesthetics influenced her personal style, the final part of the exhibition consists of portraits of O’Keeffe by other prominent photographers, among them Ansel Adams, Cecil Beaton, and Todd Webb, during her time in the Southwest.
For the exhibition’s guest curator, Wanda M. Corn, Living Modern is the culmination of research on O’Keeffe’s wardrobe that she began in 2013. “I think the clothes will offer many surprises to viewers—as well as the idea of O’Keeffe as an artist who made her life modern, not just her clothes,” she says. Among these is the revelation that, despite the black-and-white palette for which she was so well known, O’Keeffe’s wardrobe included quite a few pops of bright color. It seems, however, that she made a conscious decision to be photographed almost always in black and white as part of her effort to create an iconic and thoroughly modern persona.
Living Modern is part of a series of exhibitions titled A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism at the Brooklyn Museum. And, although the artist herself continuously fought against the popular perception of her as a “woman painter”—rather than just a “painter”—this truly feminist, and not feminizing, exploration of her life, work, and image is long overdue.