One of the most photographed artists of the 20th century, everyone is used to seeing Georgia O’Keeffe in her “formal” pose and gear – angular black hat, stark wrap dress, punctuated by her modernist Calder pin, standing against the New Mexico sky peering solemnly into the future.
In its latest offering, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is giving fans a special treat (and a different view) through its exhibition, Georgia O’Keeffe, a Life Well Lived: Photographs by Malcolm Varon, on display in Santa Fe through October 31.
The show features a smiling, at-ease 89-year-old surrounded by family, friends, companions, and pets – images quite apart from the GOK that we all admire and revere. How did this happen?
In the 1960s in New York, photographer Malcolm Varon established quite a reputation for documenting painters’ works in a way that captured a lot of their spirit. No wonder that in the mid-1970s, he was summoned out to Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu to document some of Georgia’s huge body of work.
While he was working with the artist during the summer of 1977, a journalist arrived to interview the icon for a feature in ARTnews.
No photographer had been attached to the story, so Georgia came up with hew own solution – ask her colleague Malcolm to shoot her in the setting of her Ghost Ranch home.
Since Malcolm was already familiar with the operations around Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu, he ended up taking about 300 photos of her homes, the landscapes that inspired her, and the people who kept things humming.
Despite Georgia’s reputation as a loner living out in the middle of nowhere, Malcolm appreciated that the day-to-day operations in the outback were quite fun, busy, natural, and happy at her two studio compounds.
ARTnews made a few selections from Varon’s photographs and ran them in the feature, but the majority of the 300 shots were never printed or seen…until now.
Visitors at the GOK museum pour over every detail of the portraits and landscapes, enjoying a new, different glimpse of the artist and her world – Varon’s portrait of Georgia’s sister, beautiful portraits of her property caretakers (whose families still take care of the GOK home for the museum), and her assistant Juan Hamilton.
The curators present several paintings from the 1940s showing the same cliffs, landscapes, and skies that Varon captured in the summer of 1977. Visitors have fun shifting back and forth between the oil paintngs and photos.
Take a look at some of our favorites in our Flickr album.
Listen in as the curators of this delightful show draw back the curtain on the legendary O’Keeffe, her relationship with photography, and what happened when a trusted friend got her to smile for the camera: