|Abstraction and the bravery it took to embrace and intently explore it, when she began in 1915, sets Georgia O’Keeffe at the front of American modernist artists and artists around the world. It was the beginning of many revolutions of the 20th century; in 1912 Kandinsky had painted the first completely abstract oil painting and Malevich in 1915 painted Black Square.|
L. Brandon Krall
I feel that a real living form is the natural result of the individual’s effort to create the living thing out of the adventure of his spirit into the unknown—where it has experienced something—felt something—it has not understood—and from that experience comes the desire to make the unknown—known.
—Georgia O’Keeffe, 1976
Abstraction and the bravery it took to embrace and intently explore it, when she began in 1915, sets Georgia O’Keeffe at the front of American modernist artists and artists around the world. It was the beginning of many revolutions of the 20th century; in 1912 Kandinsky had painted the first completely abstract oil painting and Malevich in 1915 painted Black Square.
Like many educated women of her time, O’Keeffe wore little or no make-up, and as an artist she strove to be herself, clear and unique. A champion of individuality, she was a pioneer in art by the fact of being a woman artist. She undertook and sustained the tremendous effort it takes to achieve a vision and a self. Distinctively feminine and honest, she expressed purposefully to the public that her work was that of a woman, and the ineffable in nature and the universe.
One of the gifts Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstraction, the exhibition at the Whitney Museum, offers in assembling 125 oil paintings and series of works on paper from key periods of her oeuvre, is to give access to those marvelous painterly surfaces. No reproductions, which have diluted the importance of her contribution to modern art, could ever have the force and impact of these luminously smooth oil paintings when they are actually observed in person. The only sculpture in the exhibition is a sublime matte white-painted bronze that invites the hand to feel it. O’Keeffe’s intelligent and sensuous simplification, and her development in serial works, range from rendered places or objects, plants or natural in origin (which through referential are never realistic), to deeply felt abstractions. A purifying mastery of vision, experience, color, shape, and volume are rendered in her impenetrable space.
There is no substitute to get the subtle and profound experience of O’Keeffe’s vision; you have to see the original works. The aura of her paintings has not dissipated at all in over 80 years; they are still alive, as when she painted them.