Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Georgia O'Keeffe: Abstraction

Yesterday I went to the Phillips Collection to see the Georgia O’Keeffe Abstraction show one more time before it closes on Sunday. It was a bit less crowded this time around, so I could look longer and closer at the paintings on the walls.

My favorite rooms were the early and late ones, especially the watercolors made in Texas around 1917 and the cloud and door paintings from the 1960’s in the last gallery. (The middle rooms got a little muddled up to me as a viewer, all kind of running together; I needed more visual breaks or contrasts in there to mark the passage of time in O’Keeffe’s career.) I felt like I could sense the full force of O’Keeffe’s willingness to experiment and chart her own path in these rooms.

Some of the didactic material on the wall included quotes from O’Keeffe in which she talks about trying to paint the way something made her feel, rather than just painting the way it looked, in order to convey her meaning to the viewer. She wanted to not show us a picture of Nature but give visual presence to the feeling of being in Nature. Yes.

I’ve been thinking a lot about abstraction vs. figuration as I prepare my new studio so I can get back to work. I was starting to worry that maybe abstraction, a place I’ve been moving towards, doesn’t really have that much currency anymore. Georgia O’Keeffe’s work is making me think again.

(side note/complaint: I overheard some of the most cringe-worthy school tours while in this exhibit. The docents seemed like they had just memorized a script and couldn’t deviate or improvise. Instead of letting students revel in the color and wonder of this great artist’s work, discovering it for themselves, they were being force-fed this predetermined narrative about the art and its meaning. Very depressing.)

(Image is O'Keeffe's Black Door with Red, 1954, from the Phillips Collection's website. Can't you feel that hot Santa Fe sun beating down on your head?)

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