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the scent of the image

September 18, 2009

[NYTimes] There are two Georgia O’Keeffes. They’re closely related, but one is far more interesting than the other. Not so interesting, except maybe as a marketing phenomenon, is the post-1930s cow-skull painter and striker of frontier-priestess poses. More interesting, and less familiar, is the artist found in “Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstraction,” a vivid and surprisingly surprising show of more than 130 paintings and drawings at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

The show’s focus is on the first two decades of O’Keeffe’s long career. The story starts in 1915, when she was an art teacher in South Carolina and produced her first abstract drawings, which were also among the first fully abstract images by any American artist. Three years later she had her first encounter with the photographer and dealer Alfred Stieglitz, who set her up in New York, initiating a long personal, professional and mutually promotional partnership.

The saga winds down in the 1930s, when O’Keeffe was spending increasing amounts of time alone in New Mexico, working on becoming the mythical figure beloved of popular glossies in her day and museum gift shops now.

That myth gets limited space in the Whitney show. Instead we’re presented with a concentration of O’Keeffe’s early paintings, most of them abstract. And we’re invited to see how bold, graphically punchy and sensuous this work could be, with its big centralized forms, modulated volumes and illusionistic depiction of space. You experience the paintings whole and fast, as you do a strong scent or a sensation of touch, processing your reactions — What am I seeing? What does it mean? Do I like it? — later. (read)


Whitney exhibition,  September 17, 2009-January 17, 2010

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