Georgia O’Keeffe at Tate Modern

5 July 2016 § Leave a comment

‘When people read erotic symbols into my paintings, they’re really talking about their own affairs’ – Georgia O’Keefe

This post also appears at www.cellophaneland.com

This is the largest exhibition Georgia O’Keeffe ever to take place outside America and the first retrospective in the UK. Given too that there are no works in any British collection this is a rare opportunity to take a close look at the work of one of the most famous of American artists.

Georgia O’Keeffe Tate Modern review at www.cellophaneland.com

Famed for her close up flowers, New York cityscapes and desert landscapes – with or without bleached animal bones – this is somebody has come to represent the crowning achievements of American modernism.

Georgia O’Keeffe Tate Modern review at www.cellophaneland.com

Her journey was a remarkable one and in the Tate’s largely chronological approach we can see her development, from Wisconsin art student, via New York and a relationship with the leading proponent of European modernism, Alfred Stieglitz, before retiring to a ranch in the arid southwest.

Georgia O’Keeffe Tate Modern review at www.cellophaneland.com

The show opens with an impressive reconstruction of her 1916 show at 291 in New York. A group of charcoal sketches, heavily influenced by tutor Arthur Wesley Dow and Kandinsky’s abstract and spiritual approach, were shown to Alfred Stieglitz, the gallery’s influential owner. He spotted her early promise and put the works on show.

Georgia O’Keeffe Tate Modern review at www.cellophaneland.com

O’Keeffe soon moved to the city, and in to a lengthy relationship with Stieglitz. She adopted the philosophies and scientific ideas of the time: theosophy, synesthesia, with the spiritual underpinning her work. She painted abstracts – one of the first Americans to work this way – with an unmistakeable erotic symbolism that Stieglitz drew on to market her in the gallery.

Georgia O’Keeffe Tate Modern review at www.cellophaneland.com

He added his own nude images of her and stated that as a woman she ‘painted from the womb’. O’Keefe distanced herself from this angle, said the eroticism was in the eye of the beholder and from then veered away from abstracts. Even many years later, when artists like Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro claimed her as an early feminist artist, which she obviously was, she sadly continued to avoid and deny this.

Georgia O’Keeffe Tate Modern review at www.cellophaneland.com

It was in New York too that, bored of the city, she began painting her iconic flowers. Despite stating that ‘I hate flowers—I paint them because they’re cheaper than models and they don’t move’  they are now her most recognisable works. One somehow imagines them to fill the walls, but when seen at the Tate they seem surprisingly small and less impressive than anticipated.

Georgia O’Keeffe Tate Modern review at www.cellophaneland.com

A 1919 trip took her to the desert, which she adored, returning frequently and eventually moving to Santa Fe from New York when Stieglitz died in 1949. There are plenty of these desert landscapes here and the influence of Emily Carr, a Canadian artist that she met, is clear to see. Carr herself was strongly influenced by another Canadian, Lawren Harris and the Group of Seven. All were concerned with the spiritual within the landscape and one wonders how strong this influence was.

Georgia O’Keeffe Tate Modern review at www.cellophaneland.com

 

In the desert she painted the colourful, arid landscapes. These are often impressive, but also sometimes they miss the bright light and sharpness you would expect – often appearing rather distant and flat. She also painted the weeds and adobe buildings and some of these stand out in the exhibition as more appealing for their simplicity and abstract forms.

Georgia O’Keeffe Tate Modern review at www.cellophaneland.com

She also loved the sun dried animal bones. Perhaps these represented for her the spirituality of the land but these are perhaps the least impressive works. It is all too obvious, especially when skulls are tackily suspended in space within the landscapes.

Georgia O’Keeffe Tate Modern review at www.cellophaneland.com

Fans of O’Keeffe are sure to love this exhibition whilst for others it may show up limitations, but this is still a show to admire. The Tate has put on a wonderful exhibition, which truly does justice to the fascinating works of a remarkable woman and a groundbreaking artist.

Georgia O’Keeffe is at Tate Modern until 30 October 2016

For more information visit www.tate.org

tom thomson and the group of seven at dulwich

7 January 2012 § Leave a comment

A few years ago I was in Toronto (I think – or was it Montreal?) and exploring the city’s fine art gallery stumbled across Tom Thomson and ‘The Group of Seven‘. It was hardly ground-breaking stuff – largely comprising impressionistic landscapes of wild Canadian landscapes – but they had a vibrancy of colour and originality of style that made them stand out. I even bought the book (Tom Thomson & the Group of Seven by David Silcox). In Canada these works are national treasures and the artists revered as the country’s finest.

So why have we never heard of them in the UK? I guess that they have long been rather unfashionable. After all, over in Europe in the first half of the 20th century it was the flowering of the avant-garde – more new ‘-isms’ than you could shake a stick at and certainly more that you could keep track of and understand. Meanwhile over in Canada a bunch of, largely, European exiles were seemingly style-wise stuck at the *rse end of the previous century. They painted in plein air using a style that combined various aspects of the impressionists and post impressionists –  a bit of Seurat here, Cezanne there and Monet over here. 

They did however also bring something more – from the symbolists, Northern Europeans like Munch and others like Hodler. More awe of nature, respect for the sublime and a touch of religion no doubt. Painting from the early 1910’s and inspired by Thomson, a loosely connected group formed in 1920, and although they drifted apart in the early 1930’s they had by then between them created a distinguishable ‘Canadian’ style which undeniably reflects the wildernes and open space of the country. The gallery promotes this exhibition as a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to see these works in the UK. It may well be. 

The exhibition closes this weekend on the 8th of January (don’t complain – I did warn you it was on its was some 6 months ago) and, unless you are a City or United fan watching the Manchester derby, I cannot think of many better things to do than pop down to the Dulwich picture gallery to pass a dull and grey winter day.

Read a more comprehensive history and review from the Standard’s Brian Sewell here.

The Dulwich Picture gallery until 8 January 2012.

 

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