One of the most exciting exhibitions to have come to Finland for a long time has just opened in Helsinki Art Museum, at Salomonkatu 15 (near the Kamppi metro station). The exhibition is of Georgia O’Keeffe‘s art, and it is the first time her work has been shown in Finland.
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) was an iconic figure in American art from the early 20th century until her death. Both her art and her life attracted attention all over the world, yet beyond the USA her work remains relatively little known. This is down to a combination of factors. Firstly, before the 1960s (when NYC became a leading centre for art) foreign institutions rarely organized exhibitions by American artists. Secondly, Alfred Stieglitz, who was her husband, promoter and dealer, didn’t like to send her work to exhibitions other than at his own galleries because of the danger of it being mishandled or damaged, and O’Keeffe was in agreement.
O’Keeffe first came to the attention of the New York art community in 1916, several decades before women had gained access to art training in America’s colleges and universities, and before any of its women artists were well known or highly celebrated. Her early abstract imagery is recognised as being among the most innovative of any work produced by American artists of the same period, and by the 1920s she had revolutionised flower painting by creating large format paintings of flower blossoms. Within a decade of arriving on the scene, she had distinguished herself as one of America’s most important modern artists, a position she maintained throughout her life. As a result, O’Keeffe not only carved out a significant place for women painters in an area of the American art community that had been exclusive to and is still dominated by men, but she also became one of America’s most celebrated cultural icons well before her death at age 98 in 1986.
O’Keeffe is known first and foremost for her paintings of flowers and landscapes in which she created a fusion of the abstract and the realist idioms. She was inspired by the folk art and the shapes of the landscape in New Mexico where she lived much of her life. In her work, she translated these influences into the language of modern art.
The current European retrospective presents approximately 60 O’Keeffes from every decade of the seventy years she was active as an artist, 1915-84 (drawings, paintings, and sculpture). A significant portion of it was loaned by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which houses more than half of the artist’s output. Many other American and European institutions and numerous private collectors have been extremely generous in making work available to the exhibition, which provides a rich array of the subjects that interested O’Keeffe throughout her career: abstractions of the 1910s; large-scale flower paintings; depictions of New York City buildings of the 1920s; paintings of New Mexico’s distinctive architectural and landscape forms of the 1930s and 40s, as well as paintings of skulls and bones from these decades; and abstractions that she made beginning in 1959 inspired by travel to Asia.
There are also photographs made by O’Keeffe beginning in the 1950s; by Stieglitz, for whom she was a subject from 1917 until the 1937 when Stieglitz’s photography career ended; and, photographs of O’Keeffe by famous photographers Ansel Adams and Todd Webb.