REVIEW: Georgia O’Keeffe, Tate Modern

This dazzling and informative exhibition devoted to the work of the modernist painter provides an opportunity to re-evaluate her work – and dispel some myths. 

Featuring over 100 works by the artist, Tate Modern’s exhibition is one of the most extensive retrospectives of  O’Keeffe’s work to be held outside of America.

Getting off to an almost subdued start, focusing on her early works in 1916 and her first exhibitions, this display soon bursts into life – particularly during the middle section, where O’Keeffe’s famous flower works and stunning landscape pieces are displayed.

This is one of the most focused and respectful exhibitions to take place at the Tate Modern, with the presentation of the paintings being almost too safe in terms of what we have come to expect from the Tate.

However, there are plenty of works to appreciate and admire throughout – many of which have never been seen in the UK before. Pieces such as Red and Orange Streak, Lake George and Autumn Leaves are vibrant and show O’Keeffe’s fascination with colour and a celebration of life.

O’Keeffe once said: “I paint because colour is a significant language to me” and wondering around this exhibition this is certainly true. Most obviously this comes through her flower paintings such as Oriental Poppies and most famously in Jimson Weed/ White Flower No.1 – you can really get a sense of what she is trying to convey – not through the flower, but the colours that are used and how they represent a wide range of different emotions.

It might be an exhibition that is devoted to the work of O’Keeffe, but the display also focuses on her personal and professional relationship with Alfred Stieglitz, with many compare and contrasts involved, revealing how they both shared their artistic practises and the level of respect that they had for each other as artists. There is one troubling thing about these compare and contrasts, you quite often have to walk to the other side of the room to see the others work – a slight and possibly minor problem, but one that distracts from admiring the work of both properly.

But the highlight of the exhibition for this writer, was the wonderful New York paintings that O’Keeffe created when she first moved to New York. All of the paintings vary in style and offer very different perspectives of a city that is difficult to capture on canvas. Her New York Street with Moon (1925) has a wonderful boldness about it – strong lines, with a hint of excitement that reflects the vibe of the city perfectly.

It is her strong ability to take something small and ordinary, like a flower for example and turn it into something spectacular that makes this exhibition really come to life.

While in rooms 11 and 12, the quality of the work tends to lessen, the final room perfectly captures the way in which she developed as an artist, blending experimental with the straight forward to create something that is refreshing and vibrant to look at even today.

The aim of this exhibition was to transform the way in which people view O’Keeffe’s work. Does it? It blows any previous myths about her work away, allowing visitors to be a little bit more open minded. Well worth a visit if you are in the area.

Georgia O’Keeffe opens on the 6th July, running until the 30th October. For more information and to book tickets visit: 

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