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Georgia O’Keeffe:
Living Modern

By Ann Binlot

In 1927, a painting of a striking black pansy beneath bunches of pale blue forget-me-nots by Georgia O’Keeffe hung in her first museum exhibition, which featured 15 of her paintings at the Brooklyn Museum. Ninety years later, the painting has come full circle, as one of the works in Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, on view at the Brooklyn Museum through July 23. The show displays some 220 objects, including 36 paintings, 98 photographs, and 42 items from her closet.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Brooklyn Bridge, 1949. (Photo: Brooklyn Museum)
At top: Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, circa 1920-22. © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

The exhibition is a departure from the Georgia O’Keeffe that most are familiar with, swaying from her animal skulls and popular erotically-charged florals. “O’Keeffe always rejected such readings, but with little success until she stopped painting flowers and turned to other subjects,” says Lisa Small, the exhibition’s coordinator and curator of European painting and sculpture at the museum. It shows a side of O’Keeffe, who died in 1986 at age 98, that involves abstract paintings, intricately designed clothes, and being a muse to other artists, including her husband Alfred Stieglitz.

Wanda Corn, the exhibition’s curator, had been exploring the way a number of artists used dress as a mode of self-expression. When she learned that O’Keeffe had left a number of garments behind, Corn just had to get a look, and upon seeing them in 2005, she just knew she had to write a book and create an exhibition that included O’Keeffe’s wardrobe.

“The Georgia O’Keeffe she discovered from this work, was an artist not only in her studio but also in her homemaking and self-fashioning,” explains Small. “She purposely and creatively used her clothes to build an identity. She modeled for over 40 photographers and dressed for her portraits in her very simple and distinctive style that featured only black and white.”

Todd Webb, Georgia O’Keeffe on Ghost Ranch Portal, New Mexico, circa 1960s. © Estate of Todd Webb
When O'Keeffe began to live year-round in New Mexico, her wardrobe expanded in all directions, reflecting the rise of off-the-rack sportswear and the introduction of postwar colors, according to exhibition curator Wanda Corn. (All installation photographs by Alyson Sharon)

The pieces on display show a relationship between O’Keeffe’s wardrobe—many of the garments were designed and sewn by the artist herself—and her art. The same winding lines that appeared on a painting of two shells show up on a bow accent on the collar of a delicate shirt made by O’Keeffe in the early ‘30s. The chevrons of a Pucci dress owned by O’Keeffe are also seen in Polaroids by the artist taken of Glen Canyon in 1964.

Her glorious kimonos, chambray work shirts, and dainty dresses are among the pieces of her minimal wardrobe on display. Her style would go on to be admired by designers like Issey Miyake and Calvin Klein, who collects her work and hired Bruce Weber to shoot a campaign featuring her New Mexico home. In recent years, designers like Michael Kors, Gareth Pugh, and Prabal Gurung have referenced her work in their collections.

Jeans were OKeeffes first long-term commitment to any style of trousers, explains Corn in the illustrated volume that accompanies the exhibition. She often paired her Levis with mens-style shirts and sneakers.
Blue jeans—the costume of this country—I rather think they are our only national costumes.
Georgia O’Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe, Line and Curve, 1927. © Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art

O’Keeffe as muse is another constant theme in the exhibition, from a 1908 portrait of O’Keeffe by Eugene E. Speicher, to a painting by Hilda Belcher of the artist in a checkered dress. She was a favorite subject among photographers; the exhibition shows several photos of the artist by Cecil Beaton for Vogue, a solemn portrait of the artist from the back by Richard Avedon, numerous images of O’Keeffe’s New Mexico home by Annie Leibovitz, and a 1980 Polaroid of O’Keeffe by Andy Warhol.

“Unlike most of her male contemporaries, O’Keeffe’s reputation was molded not only by her paintings, but by the fact that she was continuously photographed and images of her ran in newspapers and magazines on a fairly regular basis,” says Small.

Although O’Keeffe paved the way for generations of female artists that followed, she did not identify herself as one. “She did not use the term, but like feminists, she took charge of all aspects of her life,” says Small. “She was always very independent and listened to her own drummer. She resisted being gendered as a person and especially as an artist. She sought equality with men in the art world. Young feminists in the 1970s celebrated her for breaking through the glass ceiling in the arts.”

Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Prospect Mountain, Lake George, 1927. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred Stieglitz Collection. © Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art
Among the earliest garments that survive in OKeeffes collection is this ivory silk ensemble: a sleeveless dress and an unstructured bolero jacket with a scarf collar. It is almost entirely hand-sewn, notes curator Wanda Corn, and appears to have been designed and made by OKeeffe herself.
O’Keeffe had a strong conviction about how she wanted to look. She was born, it seems, to favor a plain and unornamented style no matter what the dress codes of the day.
Wanda Corn
“O'Keeffe, who loved ties on her blouses, also liked them on her shoes, says Corn. “She had six pairs of well-worn suede ballet-like flat shoes with ties in her closet, and one pair of blue flats with a scalloped edge that are close to [Clare] McCardell's designs but carry the label of Salvatore Ferragamo.

After the Brooklyn Museum, Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern will travel to the Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (August 18 through November 19, 2017) and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts (December 16, 2017 through April 1, 2018).

Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern

Georgia O’Keeffe:
Living Modern

By Ann Binlot

In 1927, a painting of a striking black pansy beneath bunches of pale blue forget-me-nots by Georgia O’Keeffe hung in her first museum exhibition, which featured 15 of her paintings at the Brooklyn Museum. Ninety years later, the painting has come full circle, as one of the works in Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, on view at the Brooklyn Museum through July 23. The show displays some 220 objects, including 36 paintings, 98 photographs, and 42 items from her closet.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Brooklyn Bridge, 1949. (Photo: Brooklyn Museum)
At top: Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, circa 1920-22. © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

The exhibition is a departure from the Georgia O’Keeffe that most are familiar with, swaying from her animal skulls and popular erotically-charged florals. “O’Keeffe always rejected such readings, but with little success until she stopped painting flowers and turned to other subjects,” says Lisa Small, the exhibition’s coordinator and curator of European painting and sculpture at the museum. It shows a side of O’Keeffe, who died in 1986 at age 98, that involves abstract paintings, intricately designed clothes, and being a muse to other artists, including her husband Alfred Stieglitz.

Wanda Corn, the exhibition’s curator, had been exploring the way a number of artists used dress as a mode of self-expression. When she learned that O’Keeffe had left a number of garments behind, Corn just had to get a look, and upon seeing them in 2005, she just knew she had to write a book and create an exhibition that included O’Keeffe’s wardrobe.

“The Georgia O’Keeffe she discovered from this work, was an artist not only in her studio but also in her homemaking and self-fashioning,” explains Small. “She purposely and creatively used her clothes to build an identity. She modeled for over 40 photographers and dressed for her portraits in her very simple and distinctive style that featured only black and white.”

Todd Webb, Georgia O’Keeffe on Ghost Ranch Portal, New Mexico, circa 1960s. © Estate of Todd Webb
When O'Keeffe began to live year-round in New Mexico, her wardrobe expanded in all directions, reflecting the rise of off-the-rack sportswear and the introduction of postwar colors, according to exhibition curator Wanda Corn. (All installation photographs by Alyson Sharon)

The pieces on display show a relationship between O’Keeffe’s wardrobe—many of the garments were designed and sewn by the artist herself—and her art. The same winding lines that appeared on a painting of two shells show up on a bow accent on the collar of a delicate shirt made by O’Keeffe in the early ‘30s. The chevrons of a Pucci dress owned by O’Keeffe are also seen in Polaroids by the artist taken of Glen Canyon in 1964.

Her glorious kimonos, chambray work shirts, and dainty dresses are among the pieces of her minimal wardrobe on display. Her style would go on to be admired by designers like Issey Miyake and Calvin Klein, who collects her work and hired Bruce Weber to shoot a campaign featuring her New Mexico home. In recent years, designers like Michael Kors, Gareth Pugh, and Prabal Gurung have referenced her work in their collections.

Jeans were OKeeffes first long-term commitment to any style of trousers, explains Corn in the illustrated volume that accompanies the exhibition. She often paired her Levis with mens-style shirts and sneakers.
Blue jeans—the costume of this country—I rather think they are our only national costumes.
Georgia O’Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe, Line and Curve, 1927. © Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art

O’Keeffe as muse is another constant theme in the exhibition, from a 1908 portrait of O’Keeffe by Eugene E. Speicher, to a painting by Hilda Belcher of the artist in a checkered dress. She was a favorite subject among photographers; the exhibition shows several photos of the artist by Cecil Beaton for Vogue, a solemn portrait of the artist from the back by Richard Avedon, numerous images of O’Keeffe’s New Mexico home by Annie Leibovitz, and a 1980 Polaroid of O’Keeffe by Andy Warhol.

“Unlike most of her male contemporaries, O’Keeffe’s reputation was molded not only by her paintings, but by the fact that she was continuously photographed and images of her ran in newspapers and magazines on a fairly regular basis,” says Small.

Although O’Keeffe paved the way for generations of female artists that followed, she did not identify herself as one. “She did not use the term, but like feminists, she took charge of all aspects of her life,” says Small. “She was always very independent and listened to her own drummer. She resisted being gendered as a person and especially as an artist. She sought equality with men in the art world. Young feminists in the 1970s celebrated her for breaking through the glass ceiling in the arts.”

Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Prospect Mountain, Lake George, 1927. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred Stieglitz Collection. © Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art
Among the earliest garments that survive in OKeeffes collection is this ivory silk ensemble: a sleeveless dress and an unstructured bolero jacket with a scarf collar. It is almost entirely hand-sewn, notes curator Wanda Corn, and appears to have been designed and made by OKeeffe herself.
O’Keeffe had a strong conviction about how she wanted to look. She was born, it seems, to favor a plain and unornamented style no matter what the dress codes of the day.
Wanda Corn
“O'Keeffe, who loved ties on her blouses, also liked them on her shoes, says Corn. “She had six pairs of well-worn suede ballet-like flat shoes with ties in her closet, and one pair of blue flats with a scalloped edge that are close to [Clare] McCardell's designs but carry the label of Salvatore Ferragamo.

After the Brooklyn Museum, Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern will travel to the Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (August 18 through November 19, 2017) and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts (December 16, 2017 through April 1, 2018).