Vienna (LCG) – Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986) was one of the founders of American Modernism and a pioneer as an artist. O’Keeffe, alongside Frida Kahlo, is probably the most famous woman artist of the twentieth century, but the opportunities to see her work in Europe are rare; O’Keeffe has as yet never been exhibited in Austria. Her works are distributed throughout the leading US museums and collections and have gained an iconic status there.
In cooperation with the Tate Modern, London, and the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, on 7 December 2016 the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien is opening the hitherto largest O’Keeffe exhibition outside the United States. The presentation includes 85 of O’Keeffe’s works as well as 60 photographs by befriended artists, and with loans from fifty sources the exhibition is offering what is probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become acquainted with the painting of this exceptional artist. Among the exhibits is “Jimson Weed/White Flower No 1 (1832), at 35.5 million euros the most expensive picture by a woman ever to be auctioned.
Debut as an artist exactly a hundred years ago
Georgia O’Keeffe was born in 1887 on a farm in Wisconsin and died in 1986 at the age of 98 in her retreat in New Mexico; she debuted as an artist in New York, where she exhibited for the first time in 1916, exactly a hundred years ago, in the Gallery 291. The then leading forum for European avant-garde was run by the photographer – and her later husband – Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946).
The exhibition starts off with her lesser known early work, which was influenced by Wassily Kandinsky’s “spiritual” abstraction and integrated ideas on synaesthetics, the aspiration “to translate music into something for the eye”. In the male-dominated “Stieglitz Circle” O’Keeffe as one of the first women artists took an active part in the founding of American Modernism, thus blazing a trail for subsequent generations of artists, both female and male. As a member of the National Women’s Party she campaigned for women’s rights. But already early on, Stieglitz, who was influenced by the writings of Sigmund Freud and held that “woman draws the strength of her art from her womb”, declared O’Keeffe’s work to be the epitome of the “feminine”. Stieglitz’s erotic nude photographs of O’Keeffe were instrumental in making the painter an icon of the “Roaring Twenties” and encouraged the fusion of the work with the person. O’Keeffe spent her whole life fighting against this essentialist and sexualised interpretation of her art, just as she opposed all categorisation as a “female” artist – thus also her appropriation by feminist artists in the 1970s.
Monumental flower pictures as harbingers of pop art
O’Keeffe’s monumental flower pictures of the 1920s and 1930s heralding pop art are among the most popular works in her oeuvre. Aesthetic specifics such as the sharp focus, the cutting-edge delineation and the close-up angles reveal her innovative transference of photographic strategies into painting. The show underlines this intensive artistic dialogue with a large selection of photographs by Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. O‘Keeffe’s views of New York skyscrapers from the 1920s are deemed to be the absolute epitome of American big cityscapes. The bone pictures created since the 1930s in the southwestern American desert, which combine close-up and distant perspectives, monumentality and intimacy, show O’Keeffe contributing an important aspect not only to the still life genre of painting, but also in general to the foundation of an American, landscape-based iconography.
O’Keeffe’s work founds a national American art
Until today, a hundred years after O’Keeffe’s debut, her work has always been associated with the creation of the “Great American Thing”: she is almost unique in embodying the historical aspiration of creating a national, American art, set off from the European tradition, expressed in O’Keeffe’s work in a specific combination of abstraction and American landscape. It is the intense experience of the sheer endlessness of New Mexico’s untouched expanse which inspired O’Keeffe since 1929 to minimal landscapes. Her large-format series of the 1950s and 1960s – of patios, clouds, streets and river courses – reveal her quest for painterly equivalents to the endless, light-flooded space and anticipate the art trends of Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. The exhibition spotlights O’Keeffe’s singular position between European Modernism and post-war American abstraction, between relatedness to the natural habitat and abstraction, the organic and geometric, feeling and depersonalisation.
The exhibition was organised by Tate Modern in cooperation with the Bank Austria Kunstforum and the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.
Exhibition: Georgia O’Keeffe Duration: 7 December 2016 – 26 March 2016 Location: Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien Address: 1010 Vienna, Freyung 8 Website: http://www.kunstforumwien.at Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/kunstforumwien Twitter: https://twitter.com/kufowien Map: http://g.co/maps/k9ffd
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- Press Kit Georgia O'Keeffe [EN] (209kB)