Weekend Wandering: Georgia O'Keeffe at Tate Modern

The view from the third floor balcony of the Tate Modern
The view from the third floor balcony of the Tate Modern - with a clue to the exhibition I'd just seen. 
There's an amazing opportunity to see the works of seldom-seen-in-the-UK American artist Georgia O'Keeffe at the Tate Modern until 30th October.

I first came across her work when I studied photography A Level, as she was one of the iconic '291' group who surrounded pioneer photographer Alfred Stieglitz. She became his muse, then his wife. Much of this modernist group's work e.g. Paul Strand and Ansel Adams, as well as Stieglitz himself is on show too, so this is pretty much two exhibitions for the price of one.

That doesn't mean the display of O'Keeffe's work has been stinted, as there are over 100 of her paintings and drawings on show, as well as notebooks, supporting documentation, and even a rare example of her sculpture.

Photograph by Alfred Stieglitz of Georgia O'Keeffe in 1918
Alfred Stieglitz 1864-1946
Georgia O'Keeffe 1918
Photograph, palladium print on paper
243 x 192 mm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© The J. Paul Getty Trust
Here's one of Stieglitz's photographs of her. Despite being nearly a century old, it's a striking, modern looking photograph.

She comes across as a fiercely independent woman, who held her own in the (mainly) world of men.

She hated being categorised or claimed; Stieglitz's attempted psychoanalysis of her work irritated her (and must have made for a stormy relationship), as did later claims by feminist groups she was a feminist artist.

She reacted to claims her work was erotic (mainly by Stieglitz) by saying:

"When people read erotic symbols into my paintings, they're really talking about their own affairs."

In the years prior to that statement, she was fascinated by synaesthesia and how e.g. sounds could be interpreted on paper as abstract forms. Her early work was exploratory and initially she worked in charcoal - "I...decided not to use any other colour until it was impossible to do what I wanted to do in black and white."

Tate banner for Georgia O'Keeffe exhibition
One of the pictures which drew me in:
Jimson Weed/White Flower Number 1
The exhibition explores these themes and the development of her work over seven decades. I'd gone especially to see her famous floral pictures and the scenes she painted in New Mexico. The latter landscapes we'd seen for real 20 years ago, and her paintings brought back memories of two wonderful holidays.

There's so much more to see and learn from this exhibition. Like my Painting the Modern Garden visit earlier this year, I was struck by the intense discussion and ideas that flowed from and between O'Keeffe and Stieglitz's other group members.

Before I went I'd tended to think of O'Keeffe's work as being a bit "flat", but having examined her paintings up close, I'm in awe of how she managed to create the subtle changes in colour on her canvases. There is no clue I can see from her brushwork on how it's been achieved.

My favourite discoveries from the exhibition include her early cityscapes of New York and her later abstract skyscapes. Clouds and sky are a theme seen throughout the exhibition and are seen in both photographic and painted artworks. They're evidence of the intense cross fertilisation of ideas between the artists featured.

Disclosure: I was given a press pass to the event, which I more than made up for in the souvenir shop afterwards! My thanks to Tate Modern for the pass, for including my favourite Ansel Adams photograph (Moonrise Hernandez New Mexico 1948), and allowing me to use the Georgia O'Keeffe photograph above, with the correct accreditation.

Note: if you want to visit the exhibition, photography isn't allowed.

Coming up: I'm really looking forward to see the David Hockney exhibition at Tate Modern starting February 9th next year. I was blown away by his Bigger Trees Near Warter landscape when it was on show in York in 2012.

If you can't wait until then, you can see his portrait work now at the Royal Academy until October 12th. Sounds like the perfect excuse for a trip to London in the next few weeks and see two iconic art exhibitions.


  1. I first became aware of Georgia O'Keeffe in an Art Appreciation class, and Ansel Adams in a photography class.
    How wonderful to be able to see both, a 2-for-1 deal as you said!
    Have a great week!

  2. Ansel Adams is one of my favourite photographers, so seeing his work was indeed an added and unexpected bonus, Lea 😊


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