Monday, November 16, 2009

Georgia O'Keeffe at the Whitney.

I believe that any difficult day can be salvaged if you either seek and discover beauty, or learn something new and interesting.

After struggling through a pair of long and trying days this weekend, I hit the jackpot in both regards when I wrapped up my Sunday with a trip to the Whitney Museum of American Art to view "Georgia O'Keeffe: Abstraction." My dear friend ALF pointed out that it was O'Keeffe's birthday (as well as ALF's herself), so I picked a fitting day to visit.

As a child I was influenced by my parents' tastes in art, primarily: Chinese watercolors, the three generations of Wyeths, and Georgia O'Keeffe. Chinese art hung in our house, and catalogues of retrospectives by the other artists littered our bookshelves and coffee tables. I pored over these works and came to know them like distant relatives. It may be obnoxious to say, but Georgia O'Keeffe feels very familiar to me.

In a way, then, seeing the Whitney's exhibit felt like a reunion of sorts. But, so importantly, I was exposed to much of O'Keeffe's work that I had never seen before, and learned about entirely new sides of the artist who is almost limitingly known for her vivid floral pieces and Southwestern landscapes.

The show was excellent. I've been grappling with wondering if credit is due to the Whitney's curation (and, certainly, they did a fine job of image selection), or rather, if it's because O'Keeffe's nearly seven-decade career evolved through many different phases and produced a tremendous portfolio of work. I think it may be the latter.

Even in its earliest form, O'Keeffe's work was abstract. The show begins with charcoals from 1915, and quickly leads into watercolors. I was fascinated by the work, and grateful to see these pieces since I only previously knew O'Keeffe's work in oil.

The most moving aspect of the show is the continual reminder of O'Keeffe's search for emotional expression through art. Lest we forget she experimented with radical ideas in the first half of the last century; it would be easy to convince someone that she was a liberated woman of the 1970s. A series of watercolors on display were painted after O'Keeffe's first meeting with photographer Paul Strand, which she described as "being not of Strand but rather of a feeling that he had aroused in her inner consciousness." To paint the feeling rather than the thing itself--it's such a magnificent idea.

Another idea that struck me as so funny (and reinforced the notion that one's experience and interpretation of the world is often quite different from everyone else's) was this quote from O'Keeffe:
"I have painted portraits that to me are almost photographic.
I remember hesitating to show paintings,
they looked so real to me.
But they have passed into the world as abstractions--no one seeing what they are."

The show does right by its viewers in explaining O'Keeffe's extremely important exposure to, and experimentation with, photography via Paul Strand and Alfred Stieglitz. The cropping she learned with photography led to her development of the hyper-magnified floral paintings for which she is best known.

And, knowing how to please their visitors, the Whitney certainly spoils visitors with O'Keeffe's sumptuous oils and magnificent colors. I know I love a painting if I want to eat it or live inside of it (note: we are each entitled to our unique visceral reactions!); I had this feeling on several occasions throughout the exhibit.

I avoided reading the NYTimes' review until after I saw the show I'm going to take a peek at what they had to say. But regardless of what any critics may think, I loved this exhibit. I love knowing more about what an amazing woman and courageous artist O'Keeffe was. And I'm already planning a trip to her New Mexico museum in my mind...

See it if you can. The show runs through January 17, 2010.



Patrice said...

new mexico is definitely worth a trip. my uncle lives in albuquerque, so i've made frequent visits, and he's always taken us to santa fe to visit galleries/shop from the local artists. frequently finding that i wish i had a reason to live in NM, i love it that much.

Mademoiselle Frou-Frou said...

i'm so glad you enjoyed the exhibit...i may be able to see it before it closes. my mom is an artist, and O'Keeffe was a name i frequently heard while growing up.

Leigh Ann said...

i love georgia. my first planner when I was younger had o'keeffe pictures. the SF, new mexico museum is really beautiful. i sat through a gallery talk and found it very interesting. you should totally go! although santa fe isn't exactly "happening", it is very peaceful and scenic. apparently there is a huge "indian market" during the summer with local arts and crafts. lets go?

BLC :o said...

Oh la la, Georgia is the best, isn't she? She was a KD too (woot woot)!! I love the reminder to put the breaks on a bad day, reverse the direction, and end on a good day. I crawled back into bed yesterday in hopes of "waking up on the right side." Silly I know!!! Anyhoo, a very Happy (early) Thanksgiving CJM!!!! Xoxo-BLC

kirstyb said...

glad u enjoyed it x