Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern

Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn

By Andrew Andrews

Georgia O’Keeffe’s "Stump in Red Hills" hung on the adjoining wall to Don Worth’s portrait "Georgia O’Keeffe with Chair," both flanking the white French work jacket and red plaid dress worn in the photograph.

Georgia O’Keeffe—best known today for her contributions to modern art in the form of Southwestern-inspired (and often abstractly vulval) paintings of flowers and animal bones—helped redefine both the role and self-representation of women in society. Alongside the photo in her high school yearbook, the quote “A girl who would be different in habit, style and dress. A girl who doesn’t give a cent for men and boys still less” demonstrates that her attitude and appearance—which may have privately fluctuated over her lifetime—were publicly consistent from an early age.

This spring, Brooklyn Museum documents the progression of O’Keeffe’s personal taste in clothing and its correlation to her place in life and the art she was creating at the time. Dubbed Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, this exhibit matches items from her wardrobe with artwork from the museum’s collection and portraits by famous photographers—often while wearing the adjoining ensemble. Throughout the gallery, we meet a very complex individual who didn’t so much revolt against gender norms as she did simply ignore them. Filling the expansive fourth floor of the museum’s Schapiro Wing, you’ll find examples of men’s suits from Lord & Taylor just steps away from prêt-à-porter dresses by famous names and wrap dresses that O’Keeffe herself often designed, inspired by her travels in Asia. Subdivided into different phases of her life, the typically black-and-white outfits are presented with paintings (and sometimes sculptures) created during the same period and photographs that usually depict her trademark stoic expression; occasionally, however, you’ll get a glimpse of a more playful O’Keeffe with a hint of a smile and a colorful (often denim) outfit usually hidden from the public eye.

As one of the final exhibits in Brooklyn Museum’s A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism program, Living Modern shows how influential a person can be not so much by fighting standards but by disregarding them. From her early years as a student of the arts, to her marriage to Alfred Stieglitz (including a period of severe depression over his infidelity), a decade-long separation in New Mexico, travels around the world and eventual settling back in America’s southwest, O’Keeffe defined her own role in both the art world and American culture by living the lifestyle that worked best for her and wearing clothing that expressed her personal style every bit as much as the works that she created. You too can experience this glimpse into the life of one of modern America’s most renown artists through July 23rd, but demand is so high that you’ll have to purchase timed tickets in advance. While you’re there, be sure to check out We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85 (also part of A Year of Yes) and afterwards, stop by Lincoln Station in nearby Crown Heights for the best French fries you’ve ever tasted!

Andrew Andrews attended Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern at Brooklyn Museum in Brooklyn on Saturday, April 22, 2017 @ 2:00pm to write this review.