Featuring 80 pieces, the Art Gallery of Ontario‘s new Georgia O’Keeffe retrospective aims to deepen visitors’ perspectives of the iconic American artist’s work. Georgia O’Keeffe represents the artist’s 60-year career, from her early days in New York City to her four decades in New Mexico. But O’Keeffe’s legacy is far more than just flowers, says Georgiana Uhlyarik, lead curator for the Art Gallery of Ontario.
“It’s a great challenge to expand the perception of O’Keeffe. The stereotype overshadows the reality, where going from the margins [of the art world] to become a full-fledged icon is an unfortunate reality for many female artists.” The popularity of O’Keeffe’s flower paintings have often overshadowed her abstract pieces within pop culture and Uhlyarik hopes this exhibit will broaden the perspective of O’Keeffe with fans and newbies, to show the strength and variety of her vision from the 1920s until the 1980s.
Born in Wisconsin in 1887, Georgia Totto O’Keeffe has been the subject of many retrospectives within the United States, but this exhibit—which previously was shown at the new Tate Modern in London and the Bank Austria Kunstforum in Vienna—is the first major international retrospective of the artist. The Art Gallery of Ontario is the only North American gallery to show Georgia O’Keeffe.
Feeling constrained by the curriculum of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Art Students League of New York, O’Keeffe left school to work as a commercial illustrator and began creating abstract charcoal drawings. Alfred Stieglitz, who worked as an art dealer as well as photographer, saw her work and encouraged her to move to New York City, where she continued to study at Columbia University and began a relationship with Stieglitz which would lead to their marriage in 1924.
The exhibition begins with those early charcoal abstract drawings and is divided into seven sections, including the early years at Lake George and New York City, and then her time travelling back and forth to New Mexico, before she became a permanent resident at her studio Ghost Ranch.
The popularity of O’Keeffe’s flower paintings have often overshadowed her abstract pieces within pop culture and curator Georgiana Uhlyarik hopes this exhibit will broaden perspectives of the American artist.
The famous flowers are found in the centre of the AGO exhibit, a dividing point between her early works and her later paintings. “Since she was lucky to live a long life, she could work on what she saw in her head and translate it to the canvas. As one sees the pieces, it becomes apparent that there is little difference between the abstractions and flowers,” explains Uhlyarik, who believes that O’Keeffe’s focus was to recreate the same shapes, hoping to perfect them with each painting.
In addition to the O’Keeffe works are 40 photographs from Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, Paul Strand, and Arnold Newman, including the famous Newman portrait of O’Keeffe in front of a canvas taken outside at Ghost Ranch, and a 14-minute documentary, with footage from 1977, sourced from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
For this retrospective, works are included from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, MOMA, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, as well as a significant piece from the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario. The Eggplant (1924, oil on canvas) was first exhibited in New York City at the Anderson Galleries, and was the first O’Keeffe painting to be sold outside the USA. Mills had to convince Stieglitz and O’Keeffe to sell her the painting, which she owned until her death. The painting was donated in memory of Doris Mills in 1990 to the Art Gallery of Ontario by her husband.
Uhlyarik hopes that those who come to see the exhibit will also learn about the close professional and personal relationship between O’Keeffe and Stieglitz, and how they both were major influences on the American art world. “Both of these artists learned from one another, it was an equal partnership that was all about encouraging each other to push the boundaries of creativity.” O’Keeffe died on March 6, 1986 at age 98 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Georgia O’Keeffe opens April 22 until July 30, 2017 at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto with a wide array of programming including lectures, art classes for adults and kids and dining, with an O’Keeffe inspired menu available at the AGO’s Frank Restaurant.
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