Guy Tosatto devant "Iris blanc" © Adèle Duminy

Are Georgia O’Keeffe’s pain­tings sexual ?

Are Georgia O’Keeffe’s pain­tings sexual ?

FOCUS – The Grenoble museum is proud to announce its exhi­bi­tion, dedi­ca­ted to the American artist Georgia O’Keeffe, for the first time in France. Who ? A cele­bra­ted icon of modern art across the Atlantic, she is still stran­gely unk­nown in Europe. Is this fault due to her sex ?

Red, Yellow and Black Streak de Georgia O'Keeffe

O’Keeffe Georgia (1887−1986). Paris, Centre Pompidou – Musée natio­nal d’art moderne – Centre de créa­tion indus­trielle. AM1995-178.

Grenoble museum’s exhi­bi­tion, dedi­ca­ted to the American pain­ter Georgia O’Keeffe, accents on reha­bi­li­ta­tion. “Rehabilitation”? Maybe it would be bet­ter to get to know the artist. Unlike Jackson Pollock, whose name signals the begin­ning of modern American art, Georgia O’Keeffe did not become famous in Europe, like she did in the United States. Guy Tosatto, direc­tor of the Grenoble museum, risks an explanation.

European cri­tics only poin­ted their gaze towards the United States post-war, which would explain why Georgia O’Keeffe remai­ned out­side the radar – her work came to its peak bet­ween 1920 and 1930. More tri­vial, but no less rele­vant, the cri­tics who defi­ned the great artis­tic trends were men… In terms of gen­der, often the works of women were pla­ced in a sub­ca­te­gory, which had nothing to do with gene­ral artis­tic trends ! In short, Georgia O’Keeffe suf­fe­red the han­di­cap of her sex.

Freudian Georgia O” Keeffe clo­sely examined

In her work, the artist main­tai­ned a para­doxi­cal rela­tion­ship with sen­sua­lism – some would even say eroticism…

Guy Tosatto, director of the Grenoble museum, in front of the canvas 'White Iris', with its strangely Freudian accents...

Guy Tosatto, direc­tor of the Grenoble museum, in front of the can­vas “White Iris”, with its stran­gely Freudian accents…

In the second half of the 1920s, annoyed by the Freudian atti­tude toward her volup­tuous and sweet abs­tract works, Georgia O’Keeffe deci­ded to pull the rug out from under the feet of the critics.

She devo­ted her­self to flo­ral motifs, thus brin­ging her fame and for­tune. Without see­king to convene Freud at all costs, it is clear that her enlar­ge­ments of petu­nias, lilies, arums and irises – see below – could be unin­ten­tio­nally inter­pre­ted as… carnal.
It’s a para­dox which poses its mark on most of the exhi­bits. The more the artist seeks to prevent a sexual inter­pre­ta­tion of her works, the more it seems to fil­ter through ! Is this an undoable Freudian knot ?

Untitled (Red and Yellow Cliffs), 1940. © Georgia O'Keeffe Museum / ADAGP, Paris 2015

Untitled (Red and Yellow Cliffs), 1940. © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / ADAGP, Paris 2015

Even in her New Mexico desert land­scapes – the cho­sen land­scape of the pain­ter – the faults, canyons and une­ven rocks are full of sen­sual curves. As under­li­ned by Guy Tosatto, the human being was never the sub­ject of Georgia O’Keeffe’s pain­tings, but the body is indeed very present. « One feels the pal­pi­ta­tion of life. » It is also that which gene­rates this latent confu­sion, faced with the ser­pen­tine lines and dia­pha­nous tex­tures of the pain­tings. This is how one can reco­gnize, at the risk of being retro­grade, that the work of Georgia O’Keeffe is cer­tainly that of a woman !

Georgia O’Keeffe : Alfred Stieglitz’s muse ?

Another rea­son for the sexua­li­sa­tion of Georgia O’Keeffe’s art­work : the lat­ter ser­ved as a model for her pho­to­gra­pher hus­band, Alfred Stieglitz. The nudes, in par­ti­cu­lar, contri­bu­ted to making the pain­ter a dee­ply sexual crea­ture, which conta­mi­na­ted, there again, the inter­pre­ta­tion of her works. More spe­ci­fi­cally, the incre­dible num­ber of pho­tos put the artist in the rank of an icon – Georgia O’Keeffe was the most pho­to­gra­phed female artist of the twen­tieth cen­tury. Did this posi­tion over­sha­dow her art­work ? It’s hard to say, but it is cer­tain that the woman, Georgia O’Keeffe, is as famous as her pain­tings in the United States.

Georgia O'Keeffe painting in her car. Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, 1937. Ansel Adams photography. © Adèle Duminy

Georgia O’Keeffe pain­ting in her car. Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, 1937. Ansel Adams pho­to­gra­phy. © Adèle Duminy

One must talk about the liberty of this woman – woman and liberty : two conflic­ting notions for its time – the radia­ted camera films of Alfred Stieglitz, like those of his other pho­to­gra­pher friends.

You only need to take a look at the photo of her pain­ting in a make­shift stu­dio, her car (see oppo­site), to see how the ethe­real muse of the 1920s cli­chés, gave way to a supre­mely free woman !

In res­pect, it also sym­bo­lizes what this cen­tury allo­wed women to do.

Adèle Duminy

More info

“Georgia O’Keeffe and her pho­to­gra­pher friends” Temporary exhi­bi­tion at the Grenoble museum, from 7th November, 2015 to 7th February, 2016.

Traduction from Speak English Center

Phone : +33 4 76 50 39 79

1 ave­nue du Vercors, 38600 Fontaine FRANCE

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