Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review : Georgia O’Keeffe at Tate Modern – 6th July to 30th October 2016

Exhibition Review : Georgia O’Keeffe at Tate Modern – 6th July to 30th October 2016

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Tate Modern presents the largest retrospective of the American painter Georgia O’Keeffe ever to be shown outside of America. This comprehensive exhibition explores the full range of the artist’s work and with no works by O’Keeffe in UK public collections offers a rare opportunity to see the artists work in-depth. O’Keeffe is widely recognised as an important figure in American modernism, the exhibition spans the six decades in which O’Keeffe was at her most productive and features over 100 major works.

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The exhibition begins with some pieces that were shown at the ‘291’ gallery in New York in 1916 and 1917,   O’Keeffe’s was working as a teacher in Virginia and Texas at the time and was exploring the relationship between landscape, colour and composition.

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The original exhibitions in New York bought O’Keeffe in contact with Alfred Stieglitz, a well-known photographer and modern art promoter. O’Keeffe’s professional and personal relationship with Alfred Stieglitz became increasingly important, Stieglitz  increased O’Keeffe’s access to the current developments in avant-garde art. The relationship inspired both parties with O’Keeffe experimenting with different styles and Stieglitz using the artist as a model for a series of portraits and nudes. The erotic natures of O’Keeffe’s paintings and Stieglitz’s nude portraits bought a degree of notoriety for the couple who decided to get married in 1924.

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Before the Wall Street Crash in 1929, O’Keeffe was keen to paint the towering urban landscapes of New York, the exhibition features a number of works that uses different vantage points.

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After these paintings, O’Keeffe generally turned her back on urban landscapes and explored more natural landscapes but from her own particular style that included figurative works and abstract paintings. Lake George in upstate New York provided inspiration over a thirty year period with paintings of clouds, trees, leaves and flowers. During this period she painted a series of flower paintings including Calla Lily in Tall Glass – No. 2 1923, Oriental Poppies 1927 and a highlight of the exhibition Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 1932.

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If the blooming landscape of Lake George provided one kind of inspiration, New Mexico with its arid and barren landscape offered something completely different.

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The otherworldly landscape intrigued O’Keeffe’s which often led to more and more abstract representations, Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico / Out of Black Marie’s II 1930 and Red and Yellow Cliffs 1940 are just three examples. The Native American and Spanish influences on the landscape also fascinated the artist who made a series of paintings of ‘kachinas’ which are Native American figures of spirits.

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With few flowers in the arid landscape, O’Keeffe began to paint animal bones mostly skulls that were dotted around the region. These paintings often symbolised for the artist that this was the ‘real’ America away from the urban centres where remarkable geometric  patterns dominated the landscape. The views from Ghost Ranch and pictures from the Black Place and White Place became important locations to chart the ever-changing conditions of the landscape that then led to various degree of abstractions in her paintings.

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Georgia O’Keeffe is one of those artists whose strength of personality and determination to pursue their careers bought a lot of respect from her peers but is not widely known outside of the art world. Whilst she has long been considered an important American artist, interest in Europe has been sporadic.

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Hopefully, this major respective will change this oversight, O’Keeffe is a fascinating character who at the beginning of the 20th century was  a pioneer of a number of styles that often developed into  particular schools. This fascinating exhibition allows visitors to discover the work of one of America’s leading modernist painters whose reputation has grown considerably in the last 20 years since the artist’s last exhibition in the UK.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information or to book tickets, visit the Tate Modern website here

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