The latest exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum, Georgia O’Keeffe: Art, Image, Style delves into the iconic artists’ work in relation to her personal fashion and aesthetic. The exhibition comes to PEM from the Brooklyn Museum where it was organized by guest curator Wanda M. Corn, Robert and Ruth Halperin Professor Emerita in Art History, Stanford University. It is the first exhibit on O’Keeffe to display her paintings side by side with portraits of the artist and never-before-seen handmade garments.
O’Keeffe’s clothing when displayed in a collection of her portraits and artwork presents a deeper understanding of her public persona for contemporary viewers. As Austin Barren Bailly, organizing curator and PEM’s George Putnam Curator of American Art notes, “O’Keeffe considered her clothed body as another canvas on which to proclaim her modernism… The exhibition expands our understanding of O’Keeffe, exploring how she expressed her identity and artistic values.”
The pieces showcased follow O’Keeffe’s style evolution from the early 20th century when she resided in New York, to her later life when she embraced the Southwestern landscape of New Mexico. While her interest in colors and subtle design features changed geographically, the exhibit shows how she always worked certain motifs into her sense of style with sharp lines, solid colors, and understated geometric details.
The portraits in the exhibit create a complete image for how O’Keeffe preferred to create her personal looks based on the locations of the shoots and her signature black-and-white style. “O’Keeffe drew no line between the art she made and the life she lived,” guest curator Wanda M. Corn explains, “She strove to make her life a complete work of art, each piece contributing to an aesthetic whole.” Many of the photos shown were designed and taken by her husband Alfred Stieglitz, who is known for photographing iconic artists including Ansel Adams and Andy Warhol.
O’Keefe’s interest in her own aesthetic draws parallels with today’s audience through the use of social media, where we are often able to curate our appearances and craft certain images of ourselves. Collections and curatorial staff who worked on the exhibition were fascinated with how images from the Brooklyn exhibition on social media created another kind of branded appearance based on the users taking the photos. Join the discussion and share your vision of the exhibit on social media by using #PEMOKeeffe.
Georgia O’Keeffe: Art, Image, Style is on view at the Peabody Essex Museum December 16, 2017 – April 1, 2018.