Friday 19 August 2016

Review of Georgia O’Keeffe at Tate Modern

Georgia O’Keeffe
Tate Modern
6 July – 30 October 2016

When one thinks of Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), one inevitably pictures her enormous flower paintings, cropped close and magnified large, so that, as one might well think next, if familiar with the legend, that they look like female genitalia. Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro certainly perpetuated the idea of a “female iconography”, writing about O’Keeffe’s work in the 70s, but, already at the time, the photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), also O’Keeffe’s husband, was propounding this interpretation, hinting at erotic content and offering psychoanalytic readings of her paintings. It is unavoidable, then, in writing about O’Keeffe, that the topic of female sexuality should be touched on, but it ought not to be dwelled on, since, take it or leave it as one possible interpretation of her work, it is but that. Certainly many of her paintings do evoke sexual imagery, but as Roxana Robinson points out in her biography of O’Keeffe: “The vulval imagery in O’Keeffe’s flowers […] is something for which botany should take the responsibility. Flowers do bear structural similarities to human reproductive organs, and this has more to do with the process of reproduction, both horticultural and human, than with the suppressed or expressed sexuality of an artist who paints the image of a flower.”1 O’Keeffe herself also always remained adamant: “When people read erotic symbols into my paintings, they’re really talking about their own affairs.” So, not only is this legend a myth, but there is so much more to her life’s work than just these particular paintings.

Read this review here

1. Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life by Roxana Robinson, published by Bloomsbury, 1990, page 282

Music – Pink and Blue No. 1, 1918
Oil paint on canvas, 88.9 x 73.7 cm
Collection of Barney A. Ebsworth
Partial and Promised gift to Seattle Art Museum
© 2016 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/DACS, London

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