Georgia O'Keeffe

Art, Painting
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 (© 2015. The Metropolitan Museum of Art/ Art Resource/ Scala, Florence)
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© 2015. The Metropolitan Museum of Art/ Art Resource/ Scala, Florence

Georgia O’Keeffe, From the Faraway, Nearby 1937 

 (© 2016 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/DACS, London )
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© 2016 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/DACS, London

Georgia O’Keeffe Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 1932

 (© 2016 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/DACS, London)
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© 2016 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/DACS, London

Georgia O'Keeffe - White Iris, 1930

 (© 2016 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/DACS, London)
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© 2016 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/DACS, London

Georgia O’Keeffe Pedernal 1945 - Pastel on paper

 (Georgia O'Keeffe)
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Georgia O'Keeffe
 (© 2016 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/ DACS, London.)
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© 2016 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/ DACS, London.

Georgia O’Keeffe Oriental Poppies, 1927

 (© 2016 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/DACS, London )
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© 2016 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/DACS, London

Georgia O’Keeffe My Front Yard, Summer 1941 

Forty-four million dollars is a lot of money. That’s how much someone spent on a painting by the American artist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) in 2014. It set a record for a work of art by a woman. That last part there is important, because the most ever paid for a work of art by a man is around $300m. O’Keeffe doesn’t even make the top 50, not even close. 

In the art world, women are simply worth less. And not just financially. Throughout art history women have consistently been ignored. But modernism would be an entirely different beast without O’Keeffe. This retrospective is herfirst show in the UK in 20 years and, with none of her paintings displayed here in public galleries, it is depressingly overdue. 

The show takes you from her early abstracts through to her landscapes of New Mexico, and she deserves every inch of space she’s been given. The early works, all charcoal swoops and stark lines, ease you into her world. A neat appetiser for the explosion of colour that follows in her early paintings, filled with twisting shapes, hooded curves and plunging lines in bold, contrasting watercolour. Then there are her flower paintings, including that $44.4m masterpiece, before you’re shoved head first into the desert of New Mexico, which she painted obsessively.

You’re going to look at some of these and think: Hold on, that looks an awful lot like a vagina (see our blog about that here). It’s an idea she repeatedly rejected. But if you’re looking for vaginas, you’ll also find plenty of cocks and bumholes. O’Keeffe was a painter of nature, of elemental things, so of course sexuality is part of that; it’s everywhere here and it only
makes her work more brilliant. 

There’s a constant tension between the figurative and the abstract with her – a handful of figurative paintings is followed by a handful of totally abstract views of the same thing, as if she’s slowly tearing everything apart. But her landscape painting isn’t the greatest. There’s a flatness to it that’s a little unappealing, and the skull works look like something you’d find in a Camden incense shop. Her New York cityscapes are a bit joyless too. 

It was in nature, abstract nature, that O’Keeffe took flight. It’s like she had to paint the landscape literally in order to turn it into something more personal and abstract – a sort of stomping through the real to get to the magical. 

Once she hit on that abstract path, she was unstoppable. The ‘Black Place’/‘White Place’ paintings, visions of distant valleys and cliffs, are stunning, undulating, body-like compositions. And her pelvic bone images, blue blobs on white backgrounds, are probably the best thing here. Her later cloud pieces are awesome too.

These are works of quiet, studied, lonely, spiritual concentration. O’Keeffe was a painter of the primal, and she was a giant of modern American art: influential, passionate and often staggeringly good. Her work might be worth less financially than De Kooning’s or Picasso’s, and she might not get the same coverage in the history books as Rothko or Cézanne, but Georgia O’Keeffe matters. 

By: Eddy Frankel

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Tastemaker

Georgia O'Keeffe at the Tate Modern is a very big exhibition. There are thirteen room filled with paintings from every period of her career and there are also some works by her friends and collaborators. It was a nice, unexpected bonus to see some americana by Ansell Adams included in the show.

It is arranged mostly chronologically and with so many pieces on show, you can watch her style developing through the decades. The earliest pieces are from the 1910s and you can see a hint of the time in them. The 1920s pictures and the New York ones have the slightest art deco feel and her ability with colour is profound even from the earliest days.

The 1920s,1930s flower pictures are probably her most famous and they look so modern, vibrant and current even now that it is difficult to imagine how new they must have seemed 80 odd years ago.

Georgia O'Keeffe's move to New Mexico brought another complete change of style. the only common factor being the inspired use of colour throughout. There are also series from the 1940s and 1950s where some are more minimalist in nature and others are figurative.

The latest pictures date from the 1960s and you can also see the times reflected here.

Initially, I thought that the entrance fee, around £16, was pretty steep for a single show. However, it is probably one of the largest shows that I have ever seen, you won't really feel like seeing much else in the Tate Modern on the same day, and the quality of the paintings is such that, on balance, it is good value for money. There is also enough depth to the exhibition that you can really see the arc of her development as you walk round the show and it is very interesting to watch those changes over the course of such a long, talented career.

1 of 1 found helpful
Tastemaker

I am a huge fan of her work! I enjoyed this experience so much! I want to go back already with friends. Seeing the 1930s work was just fantastic!

Tastemaker

She may be known for her gorgeous paintings of flowers, but Tate Modern’s (soon-closing) exhibition does an incredible job of showcasing the scope of Georgia O’Keeffe’s work; from smoky, industrial New York landscapes, to abstract interpretations of desert bones and horns, right through to serene depictions of Lake George; this show has it all. The way the exhibition is laid out really enhances O’Keeffe’s journey and development as an artist, and allows you as a voyeur to go along that journey with her. Her paintings are bold, bright and beautiful; the clean, airy white rooms mean that the colours pop from the wall, really making each room striking.

As with every Tate exhibition, the information provided was spot on; enough to give you an insightful backdrop to Georgia O’Keeffe’s life and inspiration, but not too much that it was overwhelming- it allowed the art to tell the story. The addition of photography from her revered husband Alfred Stieglitz and works from her contemporaries deepened your understanding of the era.

We went early on a Sunday morning, and it was lovely and quiet, allowing us to take time in each room and take the art in at our own pace. If possible, I would book for an early morning slot as I know the Tate can get hellish later in the afternoon.

Simply put, this exhibition is brilliant and if you are an avid fan of Georgia O’Keeffe or have never heard of her before, get a ticket before it closes. It might seem a bit pricey at £17.20 per ticket, but the amount of work on show and the sheer size of the exhibition means it is worth it. Best exhibition I have seen in years! 


As a member, I really wanted to see this exhibition and planned to see other exhibits afterwards but after seeing this I was too exhausted!  I had no idea how fascinating her work would be to me.  I wish now that i had done it with an audio guide and in fact I might go back to do so.  You see the development of her work from using charcoal only (looks like paint as no smudges) to some watercolour but nothing extravagant to see how it develops as she finds her style through sound and nature.  I loved her Synesthesia paintings which picturises what she sees from music. I personally found some of her painting had extremely erotic connotations but they were truly beautiful even if that was not the subject matter.  I also have a thing for skulls and bone and those painting seem too perfect to be painted.  Her cloud paintings will make you want a window seat next time you fly.  Afterwards I bought a summary about her as printed by Tate.  It is well worth reading to understand even more about Georgia and how her relationship, then marriage to an art critic influenced her work and her as a business woman.  Savvy.