Lisa Small, the Brooklyn Museum’s Curator of European Painting and Sculpture shares five highlights from Georgia O’Keefe: Living Modern, open now.
Stieglitz, signature image “For this photo session, O’Keeffe wore a bowler-like black hat and wrapped herself in Stieglitz’s cape hiding its prominent buttons and collar. Stieglitz photographed her from a low vantage point, highlighting her audacity in dressing so that her gender was obscured or, one might say, appeared simultaneously male and female. Like other radical women in the 1920s, O’Keeffe experimented with gender-bending clothing, to challenge and confuse society’s conventional sartorial codes for men and women.”
Pansies “In 1927 O’Keeffe had her first museum exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. Her 1926 painting Black Pansy and Forget-Me-Nots was borrowed for the exhibition from a private collector and at the conclusion of the exhibition, O’Keeffe encouraged the lender to donate it to the Brooklyn Museum. It is one of fourteen O’Keeffes in the collection; six of the works were bequeathed to the museum by O’Keeffe.”
Wrap Dress “O’Keeffe’s wrap dresses, which she often wore in layers or with a light blouse underneath, contoured her body into the shape of a pyramid—lightly fitted above the waist and flared out below the belt. Like a kimono, they wrapped around her body, but their fitted sleeves allowed her to move her arms freely. The wrap dress was not only comfortable and easy to slip on and off, and its simplicity allowed her to accessorize according to her own style: with one of her belts, her Calder pin, and scarfs or hats on her head. She liked this design so much that it became one of her go-to uniforms for the next twenty years.”
Blouse “The decoration at the center of this blouse, which she probably made herself, recalls O’Keeffe’s paintings of crinkly-edged autumn leaves and corrugated seashells. The blouse and its ornament are shaped by tiny pin tucks that look like the veins of a leaf. O’Keeffe, known to be a conscientious mender, meticulously patched the back of this blouse so that she could continue to wear it.”
Bruce Weber “For this formal portrait, the last anyone would make of her, the ninety-seven-year-old artist came up with a hybrid outfit fusing male with female and East with West. She put on a heavy, Japanese men’s padded winter lounging robe and topped it off with her well-worn vaquero hat. She added something white to emphasize the V-neck and her silver Alexander Calder pin to hold the front together. Weber framed her within the calligraphic circles of her own abstract sculpture that echo the spiral letter O of her OK pin. In this costume, O’Keeffe looks away, a dignified, seemingly genderless elder.”