Saturday, April 22, 2017

Sneak Peek at O'Keeffe (AGO)

I made it to the final night of the member's preview for the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit at the AGO.  I knew it was going to be crowded, and it was also later than I wanted to be there.  So I really zoomed through the exhibit in 15 minutes, just getting a sense of what paintings were there, and which ones I would want to check out in more detail on a second and third visit later in the run.  (Since I had some time to kill before I could slip in, I spent some time looking at the reinstalled paintings downstairs.  I also learned that they have put Kurelek's The Batchelor back up, which is my favorite of his works.)

The O'Keeffe show is representative of her entire career, starting with some early works and some skyscraper paintings (I liked these quite a bit).  Then there were many drawn on nature and an entire room of her oversized flower paintings.  (No jack-in-the-pulpit but some of the other famous ones, plus an eggplant painting that the AGO owns -- and which hopefully will end up prominently displayed on the AGO walls after the exhibition tour is over.)

O'Keeffe, The Eggplant, 1924

Then there were a handful of the animal skulls that she did, plus paintings from New Mexico, including some of the irregular churches that she often painted.  Then things get a bit more abstracted in the final room.  I'd say it is a good exhibit, but not quite as amazing as the major exhibit I saw in Chicago in 1988.  (In addition to missing out on jack-in-the-pulpit paintings, the AGO doesn't have any of the massive cloud paintings that O'Keeffe did in the mid 1960s.  The 1988 show also had more of her early water colors, which can be stunning.)

One thing that probably made sense to the curators, but probably will be an issue for visitors is that they have quite a few photos of O'Keeffe by Stieglitz.  Even if this made sense on an artistic level (and personally I think it needlessly distracts from O'Keeffe's achievements), it is going to force people to clump and cluster in this room, as the photos are on the small side and need to be seen close up.

In addition to the skyscraper paintings, these were my favorites (they have abstract elements but could still be viewed as broadly representational of stones, water, snow and mountains).

Georgia O'Keeffe, From the Lake No. 1, 1924

Georgia O'Keeffe, Black Place III, 1944

To my surprise, both of these had been in the 1988 exhibit I saw at the Art Institute of Chicago.  There was considerable overlap with some of the flower paintings and the New Mexico landscapes as well.  Both the Art Institute and AGO shows feature slightly over 100 works of art, but the AGO show counts quite a few photographs by Stieglitz towards the total, so I give the nod to the Chicago show, but, as I said, the AGO show is quite comprehensive and absolutely worth a look.  I'll be back several times.* 

There was more divergence in her skyscraper paintings from the 1920s.  While I probably don't need any more books on Georgia O'Keeffe, if there was one that really focused on this period in her career where she was painting urban scenes and skyscrapers, I would probably pick it up.  As it happens, Georgia O'Keeffe: the New York Years looks like it fits the bill.  I will check it out of the library first and decide if it is worth ordering.

I've seen one other significant O'Keeffe exhibition, which paired her landscapes with Ansel Adams photographs.  I managed to see this in San Francisco in 2009.  It was a good show, particularly showing how what happened when the two artists faced similar landscapes, even the same adobe churches.  However, there were none of her urban scenes in this show.

Just to gather them into one place, I will throw in two skyscraper paintings that were not in the AGO show nor the 1988 Art Institute show.  The first I saw on a recent trip to Minneapolis.  I most likely saw the second at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, though I can't vouch for it with 100% confidence.  I suppose that just means I'll have to make an extra effort to get back to Spain one day...

Georgia O'Keeffe, City Night, 1926

Georgia O'Keeffe, New York with Moon, 1925

* (Added 5/11) The crowds have already become much more manageable.  There are still quite a few people at the exhibition, but it isn't nearly as crazy as the Mystical Landscapes show.  While this is much better for me, it does seem that O'Keeffe deserves the same level of hype.  But I guess she just doesn't have the same name recognition as Van Gogh...  I did note that according to the catalogue, there are several paintings that didn't make it to Toronto, including New York with Moon, along with a couple of the Black Place paintings and a cloud painting.  So that's a bit of a disappointment, but the exhibit is still quite nice.

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