Monday, November 12, 2007

weekend report, part 1

We did so much this weekend! One of the highlights was a visit to the Vancouver Art Gallery to see the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit. Since we bought memberships there last year (very reasonable and you get to support a worthy enterprise at the same time!), we've enjoyed being able to pop in for shorter visits rather than trying to cram several exhibits at a time to get the admission's worth. The O'Keeffe exhibit can be covered in about an hour and a half fairly satisfactorily, although I hope to get back for some second looks. What I really appreciate about this show is the way it helped me understand the similarities between O'Keeffe's treatment of flowers and of landscape through this quotation of O'Keeffe written on the entry to the show: "Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things." While I've previously associated O'Keeffe with her renditions of flowers and landscapes, the show helped me articulate for myself what most strikes me about her work: the way her eye filtered out confusing details to focus on line and colour.

I was also interested to learn how much it bothered O'Keeffe that Steiglitz insisted on the Freudian or sexualized elements in her work -- quite likely as a way of inviting and maintaining critical and popular interest. While there's no denying the erotically evocative nature of so much of her work, I can imagine that this label must have felt sometimes like one more straitjacket for a female artist to contend with.

The exhibition also included a series of photographs of O'Keefe, primarily by Steiglitz. The one at the right I've borrowed from the website of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum -- it's typical of all the photos exhibited in the effect of light and shadows on that strong, compelling face.

This photo on the left, a Todd Webb photo I've borrowed from the Evans Gallery website, shows O'Keeffe making stew at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, 1961. In every photo of her (all black and white) I was struck by how indomitable she appeared, how timelessly stylish in uncompromisingly clean lines, organic, elemental textures, her hair always pulled back from her face, her strong features foregrounded. As well, on a weekend I spent in and out of shops in which people were browsing consumer goods under artificial lights in artificial environments, all of us made up and relying on every sort of product to groom our hair and beautify our faces, I couldn't help noticing how O'Keeffe's "look" reflected her immediate environment and, indeed, how her environment in some way reflected her back -- they seemed congruous together, which I don't think most of us can say. She made me think about how globalized our style has become and how little apparent our immediate environment is in our dress or comportment.
If you're in Vancouver, this exhibit is on until early January, I believe, and well worth seeing.
Later, I'll tell you a bit about the opera we saw Saturday night, and other weekend activities. Meanwhile, I'm very pleased to have been included in a round-up of postings from a variety of interesting, lively blogs on Travel and Fashion (how to dress for travel, how to pack, shopping and travel, etc.). The Fabulous! Festival on Travel is hosted by Une Femme d'un Certain Age who's been kind enough to mention my posts on shoe-shopping Paris. Go have a peek -- some fun blogs featured!


  1. I have seen the exhibit and was similarly struck by her irritation at Steiglitz's Freudian interpretation...but then it was his gallery and he was just being a smart marketer. Would she have gained the fame she did if it was all about colour and line?

    But timelessly stylish? No. I think she deliberately undercut his public image of her by presenting the least feminine image possible: severe hair, practical clothes, and closed facial expressions. This, I believe she did to be taken seriously,not as a stylish woman, but as a real artist. These may not be mutuallly exclusive now, but women were rigidly stereotyped then. Besides, she recognized her head was sculptural not pretty, and presented it as such: a work of art.

  2. If I'm right in recognizing this voice, we'll have to continue this discussion over sushi. I absolutely agree that the image O'Keeffe presents is not a feminine one, but what I mean is that she conveys a strong sense of personal style, very consistent, a style that could be workable and convincing today. I don't think practicality and stylishness are mutually exclusive -- although perhaps "stylized" is a better term for O'Keeffe's look than "stylish." I'm certainly not trying to argue that she was at all concerned with being en vogue, but I do believe she cared about the image she presented, choosing what she wore carefully.

  3. I remember my art studio days, college and a few years after, and how really, truly, to get down to the business of seeing and recording in messy, toxic chemicals required the most comfort, the most ability to stand and move and the least caring about paint or ink stains. The best artists were always dressed like janitors. Form absolutely does follow function, without question. O'Keefe is an exemplar.

  4. "An idiosyncratic style" yes, stylized "to lessen the importance of her clothes to let her powerful colorful work take center stage". And no, practicality and stylishness are not mutually exclusive. I was trying to avoid saying mannish. The cut is simple, the fabric good, the intent camouflage. She seemed to be dressing in a deliberately unfeminine, unstylish manner. Most telling, I think, are her facial expressions in the photos. Deliberately severe, exaggerating the mannish features , defiantly hardening the image. Very brave, especially in those times.


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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