News / Arts & Entertainment

Rare Art by Renowned American Artist Goes on Display

Show highlights rarely seen abstractions by Georgia O'Keeffe

Sky Above Clouds III/Above the Clouds III, 1963 "I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for." Georgia O'Keeffe, American artist, 1887-1986
Sky Above Clouds III/Above the Clouds III, 1963 "I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for." Georgia O'Keeffe, American artist, 1887-1986

Multimedia

Georgia O'Keeffe is one of the most distinguished American artists of the 20th century. She is best known for her vibrant paintings of flowers, leaves, landscapes and other images in nature.

Now, a new exhibit at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., features more than 100 paintings, drawings and watercolors by O'Keeffe and 12 photographic portraits of her taken by her late husband, famed photographer Alfred Stieglitz.

But the highlight of the collection - which includes items dating from 1915 to the late 1970s - includes a rare selection of O'Keeffe's less familiar abstract art.

American artist Georgia O'Keeffe, seen here in a portrait from 1918, is best known for her paintings of flowers and landscapes, but she was also a gifted abstract artist.
American artist Georgia O'Keeffe, seen here in a portrait from 1918, is best known for her paintings of flowers and landscapes, but she was also a gifted abstract artist.

Georgia O'Keeffe as abstract artist

Georgia O'Keeffe is best known for her sensuous paintings of flowers and desert landscapes of the American southwest. But many people may not know that she was also a gifted abstract artist.

The new exhibit features abstractions that O'Keeffe herself didn't exhibit in her own lifetime, says Elsa Smithgall, associate curator at The Phillips Collection.

According to Smithgall, O'Keeffe broke into abstraction with a set of charcoal drawings that she created in 1915.

This charcoal drawing from 1915 is part of a rare collection of abstractions featured in a Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit at The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC.
This charcoal drawing from 1915 is part of a rare collection of abstractions featured in a Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit at The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC.

"They are exquisite gestural drawings, very organic in form, and no recognizable reference to a known subject," she says.

Water colors and oils

By the 1920s, O'Keeffe had moved on from pure abstract drawings to water colors and oil paintings of subjects that seem more familiar.

But according to Smithgall, O'Keeffe continued to use abstraction as the foundation in all her artwork.

"You're going to find in her work this constant back and forth between very purely abstract form and perhaps a flower or a leaf or a landscape," she says.

Sexual overtones

It was also during this period when critics described O'Keeffe's oil paintings as being sexually suggestive.

While Smithgall acknowledges that some of O'Keeffe's forms do evoke sexual connotations, she emphasizes that the exhibition "is not about that."

Jack-in-the-Pulpit No. IV, 1930 by Georgia O'Keeffe
Jack-in-the-Pulpit No. IV, 1930 by Georgia O'Keeffe

She adds that O'Keeffe herself passionately resisted the notion that her art was sexually suggestive and, in fact, made a concerted effort "to shift her focus in her work towards more recognizable subject matter as a way to try to steer the critics towards another kind of reading of her work."

New Mexico - a new chapter

Beginning in 1929, O'Keeffe started spending time in New Mexico where she felt more at home than she had in New York where her career had taken root. Her experiences in the vast open spaces of the New Mexico desert inspired her to move there permanently in 1949.

According to Smithgall, it was a new chapter in her career:

"She's very much responding to that ocean of space in New Mexico where they have this amazing clarity of light and very wonderful, breathtaking kind of exhilarating sensation that she feels there that is extremely inspiring to her, and it brings up a whole new body of subject matter," she says.

Grey Blue & Black—Pink Circle, 1929- Gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation
Grey Blue & Black—Pink Circle, 1929- Gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation

It was during these transformative years when her paintings took on a different feel as well, says Smithgall.

O'Keeffe started depicting flowers "increasingly large in format and increasingly greater in magnification and so you start to see a major change in her scale, in her viewpoint taking these unusual birds and bees-eye perspectives," she says.

According to Smithgall, O'Keeffe created magnified images of her subject matter as a way of "inviting the viewer in." She wasn't copying an object so much as expressing how she felt about painting it, she says.

Coming full circle

By the late '50s and '60s, O'Keeffe's art turned once again to the pure abstractions of her earlier years.

"This is not a work that you probably would see on the wall and say, 'Oh, yes, an O'Keeffe,'" says Smithgall, "so there's that surprising aspect to them."

Abstraction White Rose
Abstraction White Rose

"What's so exquisite about them is that she has - with very spare compositions - created these exquisite forms that are extremely expressive and that do recall those earliest charcoal drawings in that respect," she says.

From those early charcoal drawings to the huge, bold canvases of her later years, few would argue that the work of Georgia O'Keeffe has had a far-reaching influence on American art and culture, and continues to impress and inspire art lovers throughout the world.

You May Like

Israelis Quietly Expand Enclave in Palestinian District of Jerusalem

Estimated 500 settlers, armed or protected by paramilitary police, live in Silwan among 50,000 Palestinians More

Video US, Iran Face Similar Challenges in Syrian Fight Against IS

Both Washington, Tehran back fighters battling Islamic State militants in Iraq -- but in Syria they support opposing sides in country’s civil war More

China Boosts Efforts to Help Afghan, Regional Stability

Observers say China’s increased regional involvement are due to concerns that Afghan instability and the presence of anti-China militants in Pakistani border areas could fuel Xinjiang troubles More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

Joe Taylor sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to talk about his distinction as New York’s “Subway Idol,” and how he beat out thousands for that title. Joe performs several songs from his new CD, “Anything’s Possible.”