Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Georgia O'Keeffe at the Whitney

I've never been a huge fan of Georgia O'Keeffe's work, and I'm going to go ahead and guess that many of you would agree. The flowers and skulls are well, pretty, but kind of overplayed. And kind of boring. And I'm not a huge fan of all the meaning that people try to attach to them.

Okay, now that's out of the way. On Tuesday night, I went to see the new exhibition, Georgia O'Keefe: Abstraction at the Whitney Museum. Normally, in reference to my above description, I would not have been running to the opening week of an O'Keeffe exhibition. But one of the curators, Beth Turner, is a professor at UVA (she was also the temporary UVA Museum Director while I was working there), and she was giving a talk to UVA alumni and parents at the museum. I've learned to never pass up things like this - there is always going to be something interesting said and it's great to connect with other UVA people in New York.

Anyway, the exhibition focuses on O'Keeffe's early abstractions. So while you may associate her with the 1940's and flowers, these were works she was doing in the 1915-1930 time period, and they are not flowers. They show her great attention to line, form, space, and color in a much more vivid way than any of the more representational work she did later in her life. They, simply, were beautiful. Her sense of color was so profound, and she was so delicate in her work - everything was done carefully and done well. These paintings and drawings really changed my perspective on her work and where it comes from.

The commercialization of Georgia O'Keeffe and her flower paintings was, in my opinion, somewhat of a tragedy. They are calendar pictures at this point, and I roll my eyes when I see them. But the curators of this show really carefully told the story of where she began, and I think truly excelled at introducing a much more interesting O'Keeffe than the one that so many of us recognize.

The exhibition will be up until January 17, 2010, and I would highly recommend you clear any previous notions you have on this artist and go see the show.

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