Are Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings sexual?

sep article

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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