Georgia O’Keefe at the deYoung
April 1, 2014
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Exhibition dates: February 15-May 11, 2014
I recently visited the deYoung Museum to see the Georgia O’Keefe “Lake George” retrospective and walked away having enjoyed much of the work. There were a few pieces that seem included but for their reference to the stated theme alone, but in general the exhibition was strong and insightful with concern to the seeds of natural exploration that had been sown during O’Keefe’s time in New York and later brought to fruition in the artist’s best known paintings of the New Mexico years.
Coming off of the massive David Hockney show that had previously been on display at the museum, it was hard not to conceive of the O’Keefe exhibit as intimate in scale. There were essentially five rooms of various sizes that displayed the artist’s Lake George paintings as well as contemporary photographs and images by other artists that shed light on the themes and intellectual currents present in the canvases of O’Keefe. I must say that while most museums and the deYoung in particular always pay great attention to the arrangement of the artworks and their lighting, the quality of light present in this exhibition is quite beautiful and produced an effect akin to a glowing window in many of the pictures. The watercolors especially seemed to radiate light and generated an impression of transparency.
I was happy to see towards the finale of the exhibition that some of O’Keefe’s early “Precisionist” style work was included. This period is probably the least known of the artist’s oeuvre, but one look at classic New York moodscapes like “Radiator Building” and other urban abstractions enhances the reputation and range of this great painter. I have chosen to include two specific landscape paintings in this blog entry as they are the two images from the show that struck me with the greatest intensity. The dramatic tonalities and subdued color palette of “Storm Cloud, Lake George” (1923) functions similar to a warmtone Romantic style Western landscape in its gravity and emotion while the quiet sunset (or sunrise) depicted in “The Chestnut Grey” (1924) reminds me of my own quiet reverence for the simpler daily recurrences of the natural world and the complimentary play of cyan and peach hues lends an aesthetic aura to an otherwise seemingly cold and distanced formal design.