Georgia O'Keefe's lessons on 'Living Modern'

E.R. Pulgar 03/03/17

Georgia O'Keefe's flowers and her idealized visions of the Southwest have made her an icon of modern art, but not until recently has the art world turned an eye toward the persona she catered for herself. For so long, she was made out to be a loner in New Mexico, communing with bleached cow skulls and flowers. In the Brooklyn Museum's new exhibition, Georgia O'Keefe: Living Modern, the artist's clothes are displayed alongside her paintings, showcasing her idiosyncratic style alongside her work. By putting her clothes in conversation with her paintings, a new aspect of the modernity she encompassed is unveiled.

The exhibition was guest curated by Wanda M. Corn, professor Emerita in Art History at Stanford University who released a book to accompany the exhibition. A part of the Brooklyn Museum's "Year of Yes" series, which celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, the exhibition also coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Georgia O'Keefe Museum in Santa Fe, which provided 95% of the clothes on display.

E.R. Pulgar

The exhibition is separated into four sections, spanning O'Keefe's beginnings in New York City to her time in Santa Fe, her interest in Asian art and fashion (which showcases her extensive collection of kimonos), and the image she curated for herself when she became a celebrity. Alongside her works—we already see O'Keefe making use of the deep blues that would influence her paintings of the New Mexico desert sky in Brooklyn Bridge—we see the evolution of the artist's personal aesthetic, from hand-made dresses to made-to-order Balenciaga suits. One of the more notable accessories is a brass pin made for her by Alexander Calder, which she has copied in India for $5, a fact she was known to boast about.

Going through the exhibition, we come to see little details of O'Keefe coming to life: a worn black hat, her use of a cape as a subversion of an accessory traditionally used by male artists. Strewn through the exhibit are several portraits of her by Alfred Stieglitz, her former lover and the man who began the idea of her presence. Resentful of her being sold as "a female artist" when she very simply wanted to create, it's compelling to watch her independence as an artist grow through her fashion: this is a woman who had the money to constantly have custom-made clothes, and chose to remain thrifty, simple. By taking control of her image and her life, O'Keefe truly showcased what it means to live modern, from allowing herself to be photographed in denim jackets before jeans became a common outfit to growing her own vegetables.

The exhibition does not shy away from how she was viewed by the world, and highlights her private nature, as well as the independence that she cultivated for herself. Her flowers are indeed featured, but it is her thorns, her wit, and her ability to stand out from the crowd that make this exhibit so mesmerizing.

Georgia O'Keefe: Living Modern will run until July 23rd. For more information, visit the Brooklyn Museum's official website.