Georgia O’Keeffe’s Always-Modern Style

Modern black-and-white dressing even in 1917. Photo: Stieglitz.

Like any home sewer, she was fond of certain fabrics and put a lot of love and care into crafting something she wore (and wore out) through important decades of her life.

In Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, on view at the Brooklyn Museum of Art through July 23, you will experience the pristine care this home sewer gave her hand-tucked tunics for over 60 years after she made them – crème silk, tiny stitches, thin bow ties, and shortened hems, all from the 1920s.

Brooklyn’s had a blockbuster season with this O’Keeffe show. It’s where Georgia had her first museum show in 1927, when she was a fixture on the high-art scene in New York, wearing a dramatic evening wraparound coat with rainbow-surprise lining – an upscale step from the loden cape that was her signature look a few years earlier.

Although many knew her for her Southwestern landscapes, she studied at the Art Students League and got her teachers training at Columbia in New York City. Only then did she take a teaching gig out west at Texas A&M. Stieglitz, her future husband was already showing her work in New York.

Clean lines of handmade silk dresses that Georgia made in the early 1920s.

For years, Georgia lived in Midtown, not too far from Bergdorf’s and other fancy shops. Although she chose an austere, modern look, the proximity to luxury and knowing the detail behind how elegant clothes was part of who she was.

Glimpse items from the show on our Flickr feed.

Once she moved out west permanently after Stieglitz passed, she adopted a select portfolio of western wear – denim shirts, 501s or Lady Levis, and rubber-soled PF sport shoes. No crazy fringe or cowboy frou frou.

Although there are no photos of it in the show, the curators say that her iconic adobe home featured mid-century modern furniture. It’s interesting how she kept up with modern fashion and surrounded herself with sophisticated, sleek lines from her remote perch in New Mexico’s redlands.

Working McCardell and a concho belt in this 1956 Todd Webb photo

She acquired one of the first Puccis sold in the United States – a stark black-and-white “chute” dress — and had a beloved collection of Marimekko and Clare McCardell sport dresses. She felt that McCardell was the greatest designer America had ever produced. So much so, she had the designs copied by local seamstresses.

Georgia’s trips back to New York included stops at Bergdorf’s and at her favorite old neighborhood tailor. Although she wasn’t sewing anymore, she invested a lot of effort to work with meticulous artists who could fashion austere black wool suits into the perfect expression of her, with just a subtle detail added her or there.

The paintings, clothes, and photographs coexist throughout the show, informing your vision of one of the most famous artists of the 20th century.

It’s quite remarkable to realize that every great photographer (in addition to her husband) sought her out (or received an assignment) to capture her no-nonsense image – Ansel Adams, Bruce Weber, Richard Avedon, and Annie Liebowitz.

Sparkling 1980s Warhol shows how Andy feels about Georgia.

Appropriately, one of the highlights is the miniscule Polaroid that Andy snapped of Georgia some time in the Eighties. Her head is closely wrapped in her signature black scarf and she’s as serious-looking as she can be. Andy used it as the basis of a photo-silkscreen portrait that he sprinkled with diamond dust, which gives it an Interview magazine quality.

The piece is surrounded by fashion multiples, large-scale portraits by other famous photographers, big painted abstractions, and multiple images where she sports her Calder art-piece brooch. Her all-knowing, of-the-moment glittery visage peering out of the Warhol frame shows Georgia right in tune with the the modern, changing times.

Watch this brief overview of the show:

Georgia’s multiples from the 1960s — Balenciaga suit, copies, and custom pieces and slacks.

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