Trailblazer. Trendsetter. Groundbreaker. These words may strike hollow in some cases, but not when referencing Georgia O’Keeffe. With work ranging from coal drawings and sculptures to watercolors and her signature oil paintings, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern gives guests a glimpse behind the larger-than-life personality.
“One thing that people really grab onto in the exhibition is that they learn about her as a person,” says Mark Cole, the museum’s curator of American painting and sculpture. “It’s not just [about] this iconic artist that people think that they know through her work, but also looking at other things around her.”
Running from Nov. 23 to March 3, the near 140-piece exhibit also displays iconic photographs of her through the years — some of which were taken by her photographer and art promoter husband, Alfred Stieglitz — along with her clothing such as men’s suits, pants and even kimonos, which mirrored the modern, progressive feel of her art.
“She was someone who was not interested in traditional feminine roles. She found them limiting and wanted to break through,” says Cole. “She dressed in a certain way for the camera; she posed in a certain way. She was really sort of curating, in a way, her own self for posterity. In many ways, she became the first American art celebrity.”
O’Keeffe’s often-abstract work developed over the years, with inspiration often coming from her surroundings. She painted skyscrapers while living in Manhattan and sun-bleached skulls during her days in New Mexico.
“People who have seen the show [in other cities] have really responded to the fact that they get to know the artist through the exhibition,” says Cole. “Instead of being this icon, she comes through as being this human being. It’s reflected not only in her artwork but also in the way she lived her life.” clevelandart.org