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Georgia O’Keeffe at IMMA
An exhibition of the work Georgia O’Keeffe, one of the legendary figures of 20th-century American art, opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 7 March. Georgia O’Keeffe: Nature and Abstraction comprises 28 works dating from 1918 to 1977, less than a decade before her death at the age of 98 in 1986. The exhibition presents a survey of her entire career, exploring the central focus of her work – the transformation of nature into abstraction by expressing an object’s essence through colour, form and allusion. It includes landscape paintings, flower studies and abstract works, her major areas of interest throughout her remarkable career.
Over the course of seven decades Georgia O’Keeffe became a major presence in American art; renowned not only for the stylized beauty of her work but also for steadfastly remaining true to her own unique vision amid the many shifting artistic trends of the time. The distinguished curator of the exhibition, Richard D Marshall, former Curator at the Whitney Museum in New York, notes that despite this, O’Keeffe’s work aligns with that of some of the major figures of 20th-century Modernism – both European and American – such as Monet, Picasso and Ellsworth Kelly who shared with O’Keeffe “the observation of nature as the inspiration of their subject matter. Her subjects were taken from life, and related both generally and specifically to places where she visited and lived.”
The exhibition includes several examples of O’Keeffe’s most emblematic work, among them Series I, No 4, 1918, and Series I, No 8, 1919, highly abstract compositions, heralding the dramatic change which her work underwent after her move to New York in 1918. This was followed in the early 1920s by an extensive series of works investigating the abstract potential of a single flower, enlarged to fill an entire canvas, of which Flower Abstraction, 1924, is an outstanding example, with its strong warm shapes and powerful three-dimensionality. The exhibition also includes two of O’Keeffe’s most lyrical compositions, Abstraction, 1926, and Abstraction Blue, 1927, which although related in concept and structure, differ in form and palette.
The dominant influence on O’Keeffe’s work in the 1930s and 1940s was the landscape of New Mexico, which she first visited in 1929 and where she spent almost every summer for the following 20 years, eventually settling there in 1949. O’Keeffe’s paintings were now inspired by desert themes, including bleached bones, desert landscapes and isolated churches and buildings. Her transformation of nature into abstraction continued in works such as Rust Red Hills, 1930, which appears to be a completely abstract composition in brown, red and black, until the title reveals the subject. Green Patio Door, 1955, is one of the artist’s sparest abstractions consisting of three bands representing the blue sky, the adobe wall and green door of O’Keeffe’s own New Mexico house and the grey earth.
For the rest of her career this same New Mexico landscape provided O’Keeffe with an endless source of inspiration and motivation. In the late 1950s a further group of paintings were created in response to her first experience of flying over the New Mexican landscape, including Blue and Green, 1960 and Winter Road, 1963, while one of her latest paintings From a Day with Juan II, 1976-77, echoes her earliest works in its purely abstract colour and form.
Georgia O’Keeffe was born in 1887 in Wisconsin, USA. She was of Irish descent, her paternal grandparents, Pierce and Catherine O’Keeffe, left Co Cork in 1848 for America. She studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and at the Art Students League, New York. The international photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who later became her husband, promoted O’Keeffe’s work from 1923 until his death in 1946, organising annual exhibitions of her work throughout the United States. As early as the mid-1920s, when O’Keeffe first began painting her large-scale depictions of flowers, which are among her best-known works, she had become recognized as one of America’s most important and successful artists. Three year after Stieglitz’s death O’Keeffe moved from New York to her beloved New Mexico, whose landscape inspired her work from 1929. O’Keeffe continued to work in oil until the mid 1970s, when failing eyesight forced her to abandon painting. She continued to work in pencil and watercolour and also produced objects in clay. She died in 1986 at the age of 98. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico, was opened in 1997 and is the first museum in the United States dedicated to a woman artist.
The exhibition is presented in association with THE IRISH TIMES.
Georgia O’Keeffe: Nature and Abstraction continues until 13 May. Admission is free.
A fully-illustrated catalogue, published by IMMA, the Vancouver Art Gallery and Skira, Milan, accompanies the exhibition and includes texts by Richard Marshall, Dr Yvonne Scott, lecturer in the History of Art, Trinity College, Dublin, and Achille Bonito Oliva, art critic, writer, curator and teacher of History of Contemporary Art at La Sepienza University, Rome.
21 February 2007
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