Georgia O’Keeffe’s Abstract Variations at Seattle Art Museum

Exhibition Announcements

August 26, 2020

Although influenced by the leading European tendencies, the development of American modernism is characterized by two dominant inspirations - on one hand, increasing urbanization and, therefore, industrialization, and on the other, vast landscapes. The artists willing to experiment explored various media whilst being influenced by diverse immigrant cultures.

Now considered the Mother of American modernism, Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986) was mostly inspired by nature and she emerged as a pioneering abstract painter who quickly started merging different techniques.  The artist  positioned herself as an autonomous female figure (some may say a proto-feminist) which was rather novel at the time regardless of her private and professional relationship with Alfred Stieglitz.

To revisit the early impulses that shaped O’Keeffe's impeccable aesthetic and the development of her own style of modernism, the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) organized an exciting exhibition titled Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstract Variations with a selection of seventeen abstract paintings and drawings.

Left Georgia O Keeffe - From Music Special Right Georgia O Keeffe - Special
Left: Georgia O'Keeffe - No. 20–From Music–Special, 1915. Charcoal on laid paper, 13 1/2 x 11 in., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Alfred Stieglitz Collection, Gift of the Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation, 1992.89.10, © Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington / Right: Georgia O'Keeffe - No. 8–Special (Drawing No. 8), 1916, charcoal on paper, 24 1/2 x 18 7/8 in., Whitney Museum of American Art, Purchase, with funds from the Mr. and Mrs. Arthur G. Altschul Purchase Fund, 85.52, Digital image © Whitney Museum of American Art / Licensed by Scala / Art Resource, NY

The Abstractions of Georgia O’Keeffe

The current exhibition curated by Theresa Papanikolas, the museum’s Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art, tends to unravel the crucial aspects of Georgia O'Keeffe's artistic development as she plunged into abstraction. It features two paintings from SAM’s collection with loans from the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum; the National Gallery of Art, and few other public institutions and private collections.

In a brief statement, Papanikolas emphasized her intention by focusing on the exhibition's centerpiece:

Music, Pink, and Blue, No. 1 is a marvelous painting and a cornerstone of our collection of early 20th-century American modernism. Studying it closely for this past year—my first at SAM—has been a powerful experience, as has been bringing it together with such an exquisite selection of O’Keeffe’s works for the first time in Seattle. These drawings and paintings trace O’Keeffe’s trajectory from the practitioner of abstraction to the painter of nature and place. I hope visitors will enjoy following her path as much as I have.

Left Georgia O Keeffe - Music Pink and Blue Right Georgia O Keeffe - Music Pink and Blue
Left: Georgia O'Keeffe - Music, Pink and Blue, No. 1, 1918. Oil on canvas, 35 x 29 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Barney A. Ebsworth. Photo: Paul Macapia / Right: Georgia O'Keeffe - Music, Pink and Blue No. 2, 1918, oil on canvas, 35 x 29 15/16 in. Whitney Museum of American Art, Gift of Emily Fisher Landau in honor of Tom Armstrong, Digital image © Whitney Museum of American Art / Licensed by Scala / Art Resource, NY

The Installment

The installation consists of ten oil paintings, including the exhibition highlight - the pairing Music, Pink and Blue, No. 1 (O’Keeffe’s first major oil painting and a recent addition to the museum’s collection gifted by the late Barney A. Ebsworth), and Music, Pink and Blue, No. 2 (loaned from the Whitney Museum of American Art), both made by the artist in 1918.

Five charcoal and pastel drawings that predecease these beautiful abstractions and other paintings are displayed as well, alongside a projection of images of additional early drawings and two photographs of O’Keeffe by a pioneering photographer, art dealer, and her husband, Alfred Stieglitz.

Left Georgia O Keeffe - Grey Lines with Black Blue and Yellow Right Georgia O Keeffe - Black White and Blue
Left: Georgia O'Keeffe - Grey Blue & Black–Pink Circle, 1929. Oil on canvas, 36 x 48 in., Dallas Museum of Art, Gift of the Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation / Right: Georgia O'Keeffe - Black, White and Blue, 1930, oil on canvas, 48 x 30 in., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Gift of Barney A. Ebsworth © 2019 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Georgia O’Keeffe at the Seattle Art Museum

This exhibition offers a fresh insight into the artist’s compelling lasting practice and honors her as one of the first American artists who practiced pure abstraction.

As the Seattle Art Museum is reopening on September 11, Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstract Variations is extended past its original closing date on September 7, with the new date to be announced.

Featured image: Georgia O'Keeffe - Grey Lines with Black, Blue and Yellow, ca. 1923. Oil on canvas, 48 x 30 in. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum purchase funded by the Agnes Cullen Arnold Endowment Fund © 2019 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. All images courtesy the Seattle Art Museum.

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