PAINTINGS, PHOTOGRAPHS AND FASHIONS SHOW HOW O’KEEFFE METICULOUSLY CRAFTED HER IMAGE
Georgia O’Keeffe carefully curated all aspects of her life, believing that everything — from her art to her wardrobe — should reflect a unified aesthetic. So any understanding of who the artist was springs from that consciously crafted image. Those closely held artistic values are evident on canvases, in photographs and in the clothing she wore, which are on display through Oct. 20 at the Nevada Museum of Art’s exhibit, “Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern.”
The artifacts invite viewers to explore her determination to control how the world interpreted her identity and artistic values.
“I think that her main focus was being a modern artist, not a woman artist,” says the museum’s Curatorial Director JoAnne Northrup. “She showed this continuity between her appearance, how she posed for photos, her homes, her artwork. She wanted strenuously to be known as a modern artist.”
For the first time, her wardrobe is displayed alongside key paintings and photographs of her, taken by her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, and other photographers including Ansel Adams and Andy Warhol.
The exhibit chronicles O’Keeffe’s life, starting with a photo of her as a teenager — the only girl in a group of 12 without a bow in her hair or ruffles on her sleeves.
The Wisconsin native moved to Texas to teach art before drawing the attention of prolific photographer Stieglitz, who convinced her to move to New York. She traded the wide-open skies of Texas for the closed-in skyline of a high-rise studio apartment.
As O’Keeffe’s romantic relationship with Stieglitz evolved, so did her artistry. She developed a clear painting style, one that used fluid effortless lines, a vivid sense of color and balanced composition. Then set about creating her own clothes to fit that aesthetic.
Her style was unique, featuring clean lines, high collars and functional sleeves that cinched at the wrist — all in black or white.
Her dresses are presented alongside her paintings of New York and portraits of the artist in the exhibit curated by Wanda Corn, Professor Emerita in Art History at Stanford University, who studied O’Keeffe for years.
“After O’Keeffe died, her art went to different collections,” explains Northrup. “Wanda was the only one to look through her closets full of clothes. She deserves all the credit in the world for finding a new angle.”
Other pieces of O’Keeffe’s wardrobe shown include a collection of simple wrap dresses, denim, from the time she spent in Santa Fe, and kimono-inspired garments she constructed after visiting Asia.
“Her main focus was being
a modern artist, not a woman artist.
She showed this continuity between her appearance, how she posed for photos,
her homes, her artwork.”
— Joanne Northrup – Curatorial Director, Nevada Museum of Art
One corner of the gallery has paintings of leaves and flowers, including one of perennial plant Jack-in-the-Pulpit, on loan from the National Gallery of Art. Next to the paintings are a sampling of blouses and shoes O’Keeffe designed, featuring the unifying motif of a
leaf’s structured veins.
Despite her expansive wardrobe, O’Keeffe only was photographed in a handful of ensembles — some white, but mostly black.
“She was the most photographed woman in the 20th century,” says Northrup. “Her only competition maybe being Marilyn Monroe.”
In her late ’60s and ’70s, she became a hero for second-wave feminists, who admired her sense of self, refined appearance and penchant for crafting her own persona.
Even after her death, her work still garners acclaim and inspires viewers to consider their own identities.
“She was ahead of her time,” says Northrup. nevadaart.org