GEORGIA O’KEEFFE — A WALKING ABSTRACTION IN BLACK & WHITE
Georgia Totto O’Keeffe (November 15, 1887 – March 6, 1986) was an American artist. She was best known for her paintings of enlarged flowers, New York skyscrapers, and New Mexico landscapes. O’Keeffe has been recognized as the “Mother of American modernism” Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern takes a new look at how the renowned modernist artist proclaimed her progressive, independent lifestyle through a self-crafted public persona—including her clothing and the way she posed for the camera. The exhibition expands our understanding of O’Keeffe by focusing on her wardrobe, shown for the first time alongside key paintings and photographs. It confirms and explores her determination to be in charge of how the world understood her identity and artistic values.
While many of us might associate O’Keeffe’s nature imagery with forms that evoke the female body—voluptuous flower petals and rippling mountainsides suggestive of vulvas and swollen labia—her clothing did more to obscure her female form than reveal it. Bucking trends in women’s wear, O’Keeffe kept to a more masculine vocabulary of style.
Born in 1887, she was an early opponent of the corset, like many progressive women in the early 1900s, and began assembling from a young age a collection of tunics, shirt dresses, two-piece suits, and other loose-fitting yet beautifully tailored garments—largely in black and white, and always made with the finest textiles she could find. This stylishly practical, modern wardrobe positioned her as an independent thinker, but it also helped formulate her broader aesthetic.
“She created a signature body to go along with her signature art,” says Corn, who is among the first historians to research the trove of belongings the artist left behind. “She covered her body and head with abstract shapes, like she did her canvases.” Her abstracted language of fashion is abundantly clear in the extensive body of photographs of her dressed for the camera. Between 1917 and 1937, Stieglitz, who was also founder of the avant-garde New York gallery 291, photographed O’Keeffe more than 300 times. Wearing black and set against white, she often appears as an abstract form herself. She rarely appears in front of the easel, with a brush or any other tools of her trade, and the omission is clearly calculated, as intentional as O’Keeffe’s confident poses, straightforward, unsmiling expressions, and spare outfits.