Saturday, April 9, 2022

Georgia On My Mind

In the framework of the activities of the Freiburg-Madison-Gesellschaft, our vice president gave an engaged and committed introduction to the exciting and long life of Georgia O'Keefe as a woman and artist at our Stammtisch on April 6. 

The next day, the talk was followed by a visit to an exhibition of Georgia's works at the Fondation Beyerle (Foundation) at Riehen near Basel.

If you missed the introduction to Georgia O'Keefe, you either look up Wikipedia, or you may read what the Fondation wrote:

O'Keefe was born in 1887 in Wisconsin, and grew up in modest circumstances, with several siblings, on her parents' dairy farm. Her creative abilities were already recognized during her schooldays, and she studied art. Her first significant works date from 1915, when she was teaching art in South Carolina and at the University of Virginia, and from the subsequent Birgit in Canyon, Texas, where she lived from 1916 to 1918 after being hired to teach at West Texas state normal college.

With the last long sentence, you probably noted that it is a translation of the German text shown at the entrance to the exhibition. It continues:

The first exhibition of the Fondation Beyeler's current anniversary year is dedicated to Georgia O'Keeffe, one of the great painters of the 20th century and an icon of modern American art. This major retrospective comprising works from six decades offers a rare opportunity in Europe to encounter the art of Georgia O'Keeffe, which is found in a few collections outside the US, and its full richness and variety.

The exhibition of the Fondation Beyeler highlights O'Keeffe's particular way of looking at her surroundings and translating what she saw into entirely new and hitherto unseen images, at times almost abstract, at times close to nature. "One rarely takes the time to really see a flower. I have painted it big enough so that others would see what I see."

Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe around 1921
From New Mexico in the fall of 1926 Georgia wrote in a letter to a friend, "It's a wonderful morning - the leaves are turning – crickets singing – most summer people gone home – there is no sun but it's warm and fine – We have been having perfect days of perfect quiet sunshine - working lots – and I feel like singing (…) I wish you could see the place here – there is something so perfect about the mountains and the lake and the trees -"

These quotes from 1926 can serve as a guideline for the examination of O'Keefe's art and life. The artist's unique gaze, combined with an approach to nature that was sensitive, respectful, and imbued with wonder, made here the 20th century's most significant and fascinating painter of landscape and nature.

For Red Baron, it is a mystery why Georgia is not so well known in Europe. On this side of the Atlantic, connoisseurs will immediately recognize an Edward Munch painting, Franz Marc is a cult, and even Max Liebermann is a sure guess. O'Keeffe, on the other hand, is challenging to identify. In fact, she always refused to be categorized in her painting style. She did it her way.

Below some of her pictures at the Beyerle retrospective are shown, which prove how difficult it is to identify an O'Keeffe except perhaps for her unique and most impressive flowers. Georgia uses colors, forms, and sometimes presents extreme details in her paintings.

Blue II, 1916
Blue Line, 1919
O'Keeffe stated, "When people read erotic symbols into my paintings, they're really talking about their own affairs." Sorry, I don't agree, for that is not my affair.
White Birch, 1925
Honi soit qui mal y pense.
East River from the Shelton Hotel, 1928
Taos Pueblo, 1929-1935
Ranchos Church No. 1, 1929
Jimson Weed, White Flower No. 1, 1932
It Was a Man and a Pot, 1942
Pelvis with the Distance, 1943
Black Door with Red, 1954
My Last Door, 1952-1954
Colors lost. Georgia's last black door is surrounded by gray surfaces. At the age of 67, did she have a presentiment of her death? Well, she continued to paint in colors and became 99. Georgis O'Keeffe died on March 6, 1986.
Misty - A Memory, 1957
Road to the Ranch, 1964
Untitled (City Lights), 1970ies

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