Georgia O’Keeffe Exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario

Oak Leaves Pink and Grey, 1929 by Georgia O'Keeffe at Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario
Oak Leaves Pink and Grey, 1929 by Georgia O'Keeffe

By Lori Diaz

The Art Gallery of Ontario is currently presenting a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit until July 30, 2017, that has been organized by the Tate Modern in collaboration with the AGO and Bank Austria Kunstforum. The show covers six decades and can be viewed as a retrospective on O’Keeffe’s career, and the relationships that had the greatest impact on her life and ultimately her creative voice.

Torontonicity was invited on a guided tour of the exhibit lead by Interpretive Planner Gillian McIntyre. Exhibits of great artists such as O’Keeffe – who is known as the American Modernist – can be challenging, because audiences come in expecting a certain angle or interpretation: flowers. The AGO’s curatorial team did a fantastic job of removing any misreadings of the artist’s work, and focused on presenting the evolution of her signature style.

Music - Pink and Blue No. 1, 1918, by Georgia O'Keeffe
Music – Pink and Blue No. 1, 1918, byMusic – Pink and Blue No. 1, 1918, by Georgia O’Keeffe Georgia O’Keeffe

On the tour, I learned that the O’Keeffe exhibit is split into two main sections: her years in New York with photographer Alfred Stieglitz, and then New Mexico. My favourite detail in this first half are the three photographs of O’Keeffe and Stieglitz. One image of the couple together is flanked by individual portraits, and their arrangement parallels the timeline of O’Keeffe’s life, as well as the exhibit: she looks ahead towards her solo years in New Mexico, while he faces the first half that focuses heavily on their romantic relationship.

Upon entering the New Mexico portion of the exhibit McIntyre pointed out the shift in wall colour. The exhibition space is subtly transformed from an icy white, to a warm (and honestly almost pink) toned wall paint. The space is inviting, comforting, and uplifting to the viewer. Apparently this was done to reflect O’Keeffe’s personal connection to New Mexico, and the abundance of inspiration it fed her.

It’s nearly impossible to speak of Georgia O’Keeffe without addressing the famous interpretation of her flowers and their allusive eroticism. McIntyre informed us that Arthur Dow’s philosophies on art and composition had an immense impact on O’Keeffe. He believed that line, mass, and colour played a major role in the creation of a successful composition. Keep this in mind when viewing the flower paintings, as you will note that the close-up perspective allows for these three principles to flow freely across the canvas: flowers themselves allow for visual interest, and O’Keeffe was simply highlighting this for us as viewers.

Oak Leaves Pink and Grey, 1929 by Georgia O'Keeffe at Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario
Oak Leaves Pink and Grey, 1929 by Georgia O’Keeffe

When appreciating the details of the works up close, one sees the clearly defined spaces that were penciled out by O’Keeffe before laying down any paint. This is probably where one of her major criticisms come from: misinterpreting her respect for line and colour, as the technique of a paint-by-numbers artist – an opinion held by the famous art critic Clement Greenberg.

The Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario allows for those intimate moments with the many beautiful paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe, which is why I would encourage anyone who appreciates the creative process to see the exhibit. The AGO has laid out an amazing collection of pieces, and any fan of modernist art should really see this exhibit. It isn’t touring, and won’t be available again after July 30, so make sure to book your tickets right away. Enjoy!


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