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Georgia O'Keeffe was a style icon in her day

A new exhibition at Brooklyn Museum examines the life and fashion savvy of the Modernist painter.

Did you know that Georgia O’Keeffe sewed many of her own clothes?

When we think of the modernist artist, we picture abstract renderings of lush flowers, romanticized animal skulls and muted desert landscapes. We may also recall details about her personal life — that for months out of the year, she ditched her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, and New York City to live and paint alone in New Mexico.

A new exhibition opening Friday at the Brooklyn Museum, "Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern," zeroes in on O’Keeffe the woman, examining how her lifestyle and “self-crafted persona” informed her body of work.

When guest curator Wanda M. Corn, Robert and Ruth Halperin Professor Emerita in Art History at Stanford University, examined the wardrobe and accessories from O'Keeffe's estates, she discovered “an artist not only in her studio, but also in her homemaking and self-fashioning.”

“Her care for and discipline in clothing herself teaches us a lot about her skills," Corn explains. "And, in understanding how she needed to live in beautiful surroundings of her own making, we learn more about her philosophy of art and discover that it is one that brings art and life together.”'

Her fashion aesthetic — stark, minimal — suited the independent, no-nonsense life that she led.The exhibition features more than 60 wardrobe items, with several bespoke pieces attributed to O'Keeffe: an ivory silk crepe tunic and underdress, a dress of black wool, crepe and white silk, that conjure the look and ethos of an early American pioneer woman.

Portraits by photo visionaries Stieglitz, Annie Leibovitz, Ansel Adams and others capture O’Keeffe during different phases in her life. A Stieglitz portrait titled "Georgia O'Keeffe" depicts the artist circa 1920, in her 30s, wearing a black cloak and bowler hat, the epitome of sleek modernism. While "Georgia O'Keeffe on Ghost Ranch Portal, New Mexico," shot by Todd Webb in the 1960s, reveals an silver-haired O'Keeffe in a long black dress posing outside her desert home, alongside animal skulls and collected rocks — in her element.

The show is one of ten exhibitions featured in “A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism at the Brooklyn Museum,” which include "Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty" and "Beverly Buchanan — Ruins and Rituals."
While many consider O’Keeffe a feminist icon, for her strong, independent lifestyle and at times provocative paintings, she did not identify as such in her lifetime. Instead, she defied labels, through and through.

“O’Keefenotably disliked being typecast as a ‘woman artist’ and worked hard to be seen as an artist without gender restrictions or expectations,” explains Corn.

If you go

"Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern"
Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway
March 3 - July 23
$20 adults, $12 students, seniors

 

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