Is Ida O'Keeffe Finally Escaping Georgia's Shadow?

June 17, 2018

The development of American modernism could not be possible if there weren’t prominent and bold figures which have pursued their ideas regardless of traditional models of representation. Nevertheless, not all of the artistic practices from that period are known and are often overshadowed due to different reasons.

When it comes to the artist Ida (Ten Eyck) O’Keeffe, it is obvious that her work was neglected due to the fame of her older sister, the famous Georgia O’Keeffe.

In a period of almost six decades, she has been continuously painting despite all the obstacles. Throughout her lifetime, Ida was recognized as an artist, yet whether it was because of the immense popularity of her sister or because of the then circumstance in the art circles, she remained an outsider.

Equally interesting as of her sibling, the artistic production of Ida O'Keeffe is going to be finally presented within the first ever solo exhibition titled Ida O’Keeffe: Escaping Georgia’s Shadow in an institution such as The Dallas Museum of Art. The show will be a chronological survey on her mastery of color and composition, covering approximately forty paintings, watercolors, prints and drawing and accompanied by the photographs of her made by Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia’s husband; it tends to reveal the domains of her vibrant oeuvre and the complex relationship with her older sister.

Variation on a Lighthouse Theme II, before 1932
Ida Ten Eyck O'Keeffe - Variation on a Lighthouse Theme II, c. 1931-32. Oil on canvas. Private Collection, Dallas, Texas

The Story of the Less-Known O’Keeffe

Ida Ten Eyck O’Keeffe was born in 1889 in Wisconsin and was raised in an artistic family. With the outbreak of World War I, she decided to study nursing, and after receiving the degree in 1921 started working at Mount Sinai Hospital. The chosen profession was not appealing to her, so she enrolled in the art studies at Columbia University Teacher's College.

Only one year after the studies, in 1933, the artist exhibited with her sister Catherine and their grandmothers at the New York-based Opportunity Gallery, while four years later her first solo show happened at the Delphic Studios also located in New York. The same year Ida won an award in a group exhibition at the National Association of Woman Painters.

Unfortunately, the career of Ida went downwards as time passed by; her paintings weren’t selling, so she was unable to sustain herself unlike her sister, who had the full support of her husband, the aforementioned Alfred Stieglitz. In the midst of World War II, the artist worked in an airplane factory, but by the fifth decade, she became fully economically dependent on her sisters Georgia, Anita and Claudia.

The artist had a stroke and passed away in 1961. Her first gallery representation came posthumously in 1974, and her work is only just being rediscovered.

Star Gazing in Texas, 1938
Ida Ten Eyck O'Keeffe - Star Gazing in Texas, 1938. Oil on canvas. Dallas Museum of Art, General Acquisitions Fund and Janet Kendall Forsythe Fund in honor of Janet Kendall Forsythe on behalf of the Earl A. Forsythe family, 2017.

The Stylistic and Formal Occupations

The vast installment in Dallas will start with the paintings from the late 1920s and early 1930s. The abstract ones representing the lighthouse motif reflect the notable influence of Cubism and Futurism, and appropriation of the dynamic symmetry, a compositional concept that linked art and mathematics.

On the other hand, the later works reflect the shift toward a realistic regionalist aesthetic, a phenomenon which was an effect of the Great Depression. The monotypes Ida O’Keeffe made with an electric iron as her printing press in her New York apartment will also be displayed, as well as a number of etchings and drypoints.

One of the special features which is going to be shown is the painting Star Gazing in Texas. It was created during 1938, her year of teaching in San Antonio, Texas, and it represents a magical, almost ritualistic composition centered around the figure of a woman bathed in moonlight. This specific work emphasizes the best how Ida saw her own personal and professional position of an outsider.

Last, but not the least, are ten photographs of Ida captured by Stieglitz, produced while the sisters were still very close. The apparent fascination of the photographer with the younger sister, who was far different than Georgia, reveal his interest in her based on the physical attraction, so these artifacts largely contribute to the better comprehension of the nature of their relations and Ida’s misfortune.

Editors’ Tip: Ida O’Keeffe: Escaping Georgia’s Shadow

This is the first publication devoted to Ida Ten Eyck O’Keeffe (1889–1961), the younger sister of Georgia O’Keeffe. It presents a thoughtful consideration of Ida’s personal history and her creative work. As a professionally trained artist, graduating with an MFA from Columbia in 1932, Ida crafted an artistic identity that was dynamic and distinct in style and subject matter from that of her celebrated sibling. The positive critical attention she received became a source of tension between her and Georgia, who was determined that there would be only one painter in the family. Ida’s complex relationship with Georgia and Alfred Stieglitz, though once loving and close, eventually devolved into estrangement.

Ida O'Keeffe at the Dallas Museum of Art

The importance of this upcoming exhibition should be perceived from the museological stance as well. As a matter of fact, this is a research-based project which has provoked a new interest in the works of Ida O'Keeffe and has triggered the revealing of the paintings which were not exhibited together from 1955. In regards to that conclusion are the words of the exhibition curator Sue Canterbury:

Ida is fascinating not only because of the dynamics within her famous artistic family but also for the distinct approach of her work, which reflects a range of contemporary influences, such as American Modernism and Regionalism.

Ida O’Keeffe: Escaping Georgia’s Shadow is supported by The Kaleta A. Doolin Foundation and will be displayed at the Dallas Museum of Art in Dallas, Texas, from 18 November, 2018 until February 24, 2019.

Featured images: Ida Ten Eyck O'Keeffe - Creation, date unknown. Oil on canvas. Gerald Peters Gallery. All images courtesy The Dallas Museum of Art.