Georgia O’Keeffe

Life and Work

3 February – 13 May 2012

The Kunsthalle Munich presented for the first time in Germany a comprehensive retrospective by the American artist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986). Around 75 paintings, sculptures and works on paper provided an overview of her oeuvre. Accompanied by 50 photographs, some by Alfred Stieglitz, Arnold Newman, Paul Strand and Ansel Adams, the artist came to life as a person, together with the landscapes that so profoundly influenced her.

Surprisingly, the works of this pioneer of American art were rarely shown in Europe. As a result of the cooperation with the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, this extraordinary exhibition was made possible, which was due to run in three European countries. Following the first venue in Rome at the Fondazione Roma/Palazzo Cipolla, the retrospective was presented in Munich, before moving on to the Helsinki City Art Museum.

Barbara Buhler Lynes, curator of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and publisher of the catalogue raisonné of the artist’s works, has prepared this retrospective over a number of years. Using incisive examples, her selection presented every stage of O’Keeffe’s work from her first abstractions dating from 1910 onwards, paintings of flowers and natural formations from the 1920s to the famous cityscapes of New York and the pictures of Lake George. One highlight of the show was the group of works depicting the vast landscapes of New Mexico, its distinctive architecture and still lifes with animal skulls, yet the exhibition also featured her later large-scale works. The life and work of this extraordinary woman was vividly presented through a dialogue with photographs and films, as well as the artist’s working materials, here shown for the first time outside the O’Keeffe Museum.

In the 1920s, O’Keeffe revolutionised the tradition of flower painting with her large-format works of blossoms, presenting them close up as if viewed through a magnifying glass. Her paintings of buildings in New York, most of which date from the same period, are considered the epitome of American cityscapes. In 1929 she first began spending part of the year in Northern New Mexico. From then on, her work depicts motifs typical of the area: bones and rocks found in the desert, unique geological formations or the distinctive adobe architecture of the native American Indians. From 1949 until her death at the age of 98, she remained in this landscape. Even today, her paintings are the embodiment of the American West.

Georgia O’Keeffe is one of the most important and outstanding American woman painters of the 20th century. Her work serves to demonstrate in vivid fashion the detachment of American art from the traditions of Europe. However, her life also illustrates the emancipation of women artists and had a decisive impact on subsequent generations. A contributing factor to her unique position in American art history was her relationship with and later marriage to Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946). His dedication and his function as her gallerist promoted her career from the very beginning. As a photographer, Alfred Stieglitz held the young Georgia O’Keeffe in high esteem, both as an artist and as a model.

We would like to extend our thanks to the Arthemisia Group and the Helsinki City Art Museum for their cooperation.

Hirmer Verlag in Munich published a German edition of the catalogue with illustrations of all the works shown at all three venues, together with texts by Barbara Buhler Lynes, Walter Grasskamp, Sarah Greenough, Karin Koschkar, Christiane Lange and Carol Troyen.

The exhibition was sponsored by the Terra Foundation for American Art.