Living Modern, a new book and exhibition, takes a fresh look at Georgia O’Keeffe
On the centenary of her first New York exhibition, Prestel publishing gives a new insight into her integrated life and work.
Journal > Living Modern, a new book and exhibition, ta…

Georgia O’Keeffe, famous for her paintings of enormous flowers, New York skylines and burnt sienna hillscapes, is being celebrated with a major exhibition and accompanying book.

In addition to her paintings, Living Modern presents O’Keefe’s own immense material and personal archive, spanning over six decades. From her handmade clothes to her avant-garde furniture, to the New Mexico ranch that she shared with husband Alfred Stieglitz, Living Modern convincingly suggests that O’Keeffe was unified in her modernism. Unlike the other artists in her largely male circle, O’Keeffe drew a continuous line between her life, her art, and her environment.

“Color does something to me.”

Alfred Stieglitz, ‘Georgia O’Keeffe, Prospect Mountain, Lake George’, 1927 (Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred Stieglitz Collection)
Georgia O’Keeffe, ‘Patio with Cloud’, 1956 (Milwaukee Art Museum © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum & Artists Rights Society)

The book offers fascinating insights into O’Keeffe’s personality, including a snippet from an interview in the Brooklyn Eagle. The reporter, astonished to find her home furnished and painted entirely in black and white, asked, “Don’t you like color?”, to which she replied, “Color does something to me.” Only in its absence could she think and paint freely. Although later in her life, after leaving New York for New Mexico, she would begin to introduce elements of color, O’Keeffe maintained a lifelong adherence to white walls and simple decor.

Bruce Weber, ‘Georgia O’Keeffe, Abiquiu, N.M’, 1984 (Bruce Weber and Nan Bush Collection, New York / © Bruce Weber)
Todd Webb, ‘Georgia O’Keeffe on Ghost Ranch Portal’, c.1960s (Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe / © Estate of Todd Webb, Portland, ME)

As in her home, she avoided color in her dress, favoring instead monochrome masculine or traditional Japanese-style tailoring. O’Keeffe made many of her own clothes herself, held together—as the book’s author Wanda M. Corn notes—with stitches so small it’s hard to believe they were made by hand. The simple lines and twists that feature heavily in her clothes—items O’Keeffe kept until she died in 1986—are mirrored in the lines on her canvases. There is, looking at these works in unison, an impression of synthesis, poise, and restraint reflective of O’Keeffe’s own life.

Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern is published by Prestel, and you can buy the book from their website.

The exhibition runs at Brooklyn Museum, New York until 23 July 2017, before touring to Reynolda House Museum of American Art, North Carolina between 18 August and 19 November 2017 and the Peabody Essex Museum, Massachusetts from 16 December 2017 until 1 April 2018.

Text: Siobhan Leddy
Photography: Hana Sackler