Georgia O’Keeffe at The Tate Modern

By Anna Lucchinetti

After the successful exhibitions on Bhupen Khakhar and Francis Bacon, this year the Tate Modern enriched its programme with an exposition of the most famous American female painter: Georgia O’Keeffe. The exposition not only highlights the evolution and changes of her work, but includes works by other artists that impacted her, including Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand and John Marin.


The exhibition starts with a series of photographs by Stieglitz and Strand, representing both O’Keefe and her works. It then moves to O’Keeffe’s early abstractions in charcoal and bright watercolours. The watercolours testify the influence that Kandinsky had on Georgia O’Keefe as she accosts colours to music as shown in the painting ‘Blue and Green Music’. In the first part of the exhibition, the paintings shown demonstrate O’Keeffe’s focus on the sensorial sphere and her attempt to represent sounds with colours. However, in the paintings that follow, it is possible to detect the change as she moves to contradict critics who gave sexual interpretations to her works.

The paintings in the second part of the exhibition are extremely different from those of the first section. Indeed, from 1925, O’Keeffe gave up the theme of colours-music in favour of landscapes, still-life and houses. The section reveals how the places she visited deeply influenced her art. New York City and Lake George are two of these influential places. Looking at those paintings, it can be understood that O’Keeffe’s art underwent a further subject change: she abandoned the tall buildings of New York to focus on nature. As the exposition continues, the predominance of still nature and landscapes in her art becomes more evident. However, the constancy of the subject does not make the exposition less interesting because, as Laura Cumming wrote in the Guardian, O’Keeffe ‘makes small things vast and thus newly strange.’ The following rooms show other important periods of Georgia O’Keeffe’s art. Starting with the famous portrayals of flowers, moving to the period in New Mexico where she produced landscapes, and where she started to treat one of her most appreciated motifs— the skull. Ending with the late abstractions that she started to paint in the 1950s, inspired by aeroplane journeys.


The exposition also tells the story of O’Keeffe’s collaborations with Alfred Stieglitz (her husband) and their circle of artists. Moreover, the exhibition includes photographs or paintings by Stieglitz and others from his circle, namely Ansel Adams and John Marin. Many are photographs of Georgia O’Keeffe herself, while others are Marin painting’s which aim to testify the influence that the female painter had on other artists.


Why go to the exhibition?

Georgia O’Keeffe’s show at the Tate Modern reveals how her art evolved and why. It also offers a clear insight into her psychology; each room has a quote explaining how the places she visited, and the people she met there, contributed to enriching her art, helping make her one of the greatest icons of American art.

Exhibition was shown at The Tate Modern until the 30th of October 2016.


Photography by Anna Lucchinetti

This article was published in our October 2016 issue.

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