Exhibition Review: Georgia O'Keeffe: Living Modern
By Baylee McKeel
On view through July 23, 2017, the Brooklyn Museum’s Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern is a show curated by Wanda M. Corn, who published a book of the same name. In a uniquely beautiful way, the show brings together clothes, jewelry, shoes, and accessories from the artist’s wardrobe with paintings, sculptures, and photographs by O’Keeffe and others. Featured artists, other than O’Keeffe, include Ansel Adams, Richard Avedon, Alfred Stieglitz, and Annie Leibovitz. The amalgamation of objects are organized by theme of place, instilling a thoughtful and unifying element among a beat up Stetson hat, a painting of a cow skull, and a display of denim wear, an abstract painting of a red wave, and a photograph of O’Keeffe in a kimono.
Seeing the division by location struck me, especially in the New Mexico gallery, a location that the artist felt most at home and moved to later in her life. Her serenity seeped through the walls, and I felt a wave of calm, and close connection. The familiarity of the denim, the soft colors of her paintings, the wear of her hat, made me feel as if I had known her, as if she was speaking to me through the museum walls. Each room examines the modernist persona that she crafted for herself, exploring her ranging interests and how they reflected the environment in which she was in. The themes of Beginnings, New York, New Mexico, Asian Influence, and Celebrity, reflect this importance of place and take the viewer on a visual journey of O’Keeffe’s life. Welcomed into a small gallery that introduces the artist, the subsequent room opens up, as does O’Keeffe’s persona.
Quite literally centered around her clothing, with models of her dresses and suits displayed elegantly in the center of the room or flanked by her art, Living Modern brings together various mediums to immerse the viewer and provide a full image of O’Keeffe’s personality and self-crafted persona. The last gallery is particularly interesting, showing the artist as she was perceived in her later years when she was recognized by a younger audience, and appropriated as an icon, a feminist symbol, and a celebrity. Here, a row of O’Keeffe’s suits, visibly stunning along the white gallery walls, and portraits of the artist welcome you, beckoning you with their simplistic elegance. Lining the gallery are photographs of O’Keeffe where these simplistic black and white suits can be seen in portraits by Cecil Beaton, Todd Webb, Philippe Halsman etc., as well as Warhol’s portrait of the artist in 1980.
Juxtaposing images of O’Keeffe in her suits, which she wore only for certain photographers, undeniably unifies the show across varying mediums while conveying how the artist controlled her persona even later in her life, providing a satisfying and exquisite summary of the exhibit. Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern exemplifies the ways in which O’Keeffe framed her status as a pioneer of modernism and as a style icon, and how she managed to control this image even in her celebrity status. Apart of the museum’s A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism, the show marks a homecoming for O’Keeffe after her first solo museum exhibition in 1927.