Two-room historic house exhibition explores the collecting habits and gallerist work of renowned American artist
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (July 28, 2021) — The O’Keeffe Circle: Artist as Gallerist and Collector will be on view at Reynolda House Museum of American Art Sept. 10, 2021-March 6, 2022, in the Northeast and Northwest bedrooms of the historic 1917 home of Katharine and R.J. Reynolds. Quoting extensively from O’Keeffe’s letters, this intimate exhibition will explore the artist in two other roles — as a gallerist with husband Arthur Steiglitz in New York, and as collector in her New York apartments and residences in New Mexico.
The Museum’s recent promised gift, O’Keeffe’s Cedar Tree with Lavender Hills, 1937, will be joined by the artist’s Pool in the Woods, Lake George, along with works by Isamu Noguchi, Alexander Calder, John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Alfred Stieglitz, Charles Demuth, Max Weber, Ansel Adams and Arthur Dove.
The exhibition’s “Artist as Collector” gallery explores the role of O’Keeffe as a gallerist along with Stieglitz, the gallerist and photographer whom she married in 1924. The experimental paintings and drawings of O’Keeffe found their greatest early advocate in Stieglitz.
In 1916, O’Keeffe received her earliest public exposure when Stieglitz showed several of her watercolors at his Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, known as 291 from its address at 291 Fifth Avenue in New York. Stieglitz was among the best-known American photographers when he founded the gallery with fellow photographer Edward Steichen, but his ambitions went far beyond elevating the status of his chosen medium. He promoted vanguard art with an evangelical enthusiasm, helping to match early Modernist painters with adventurous collectors.
Through Stieglitz, O’Keeffe was introduced to critics, collectors, and a community of avant garde painters with whom she showed her newest works. In time, several artists came to trust her to hang their shows at the galleries with the same careful eye that she brought to her own annual installation. In effect, O’Keeffe functioned as a co-curator with Stieglitz, often moderating his enthusiasms with a dispassionate exactness.
With the artists represented in the exhibition’s “Artist as Collector” gallery, O’Keeffe exchanged visits, letters and works of art that met her standards for inclusion in her home, which art critic Michael Kimmelman called “probably [her] best late work, in fact, her fullest statement about art and life.” She was highly judicious in selecting the art that she personally collected and displayed, claiming that “My home is simple, but I aim to make it simpler!”
Curator and Reynolda House deputy director Phil Archer states, “I hope people will leave with a fuller image of O'Keeffe's engagement with the art of her time. She developed a persona (helped by Stieglitz) of the remote, contemplative, detached doyenne of the desert. But she was keenly interested in her contemporaries' work and unstinting with both praise and criticism. Their radically modern art, cultivated and sustained in the fertile hothouses of Stieglitz’s little galleries, would grow to redefine American art in the twentieth century.”
Online tickets will be available for The O’Keeffe Circle in August. Advance ticket purchase is not required.
Hours and Admission
Reynolda House, located at 2250 Reynolda Rd., is open to visitors Tuesday-Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Museum members, children 18 and under, students, military personnel, employees of Wake Forest University and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center with valid ID receive free admission to the Museum. Passes to Reynolda House in English and Spanish are available to check out from every branch of the Forsyth County Public Library free of charge.
About Georgia O’Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) is one of the most famous and recognized American artists of the twentieth century. She was photographed throughout her life, most memorably by her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, and friends such as Ansel Adams, and her face has become as recognizable as her paintings. Her homes in New Mexico attract a steady stream of cultural tourists who want to experience the Southwest that O’Keeffe painted from 1929 until her death in 1986. She had five retrospectives, beginning in 1943 at the Art Institute of Chicago, in 1960 at the Worcester Art Museum in Mass.; in 1966 at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth; The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the University of New Mexico Fine Art Museum in Albuquerque; in 1970 at the Whitney Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the San Francisco Art Museum; and posthumously in the centennial year of her birth 1987 at the National Gallery of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Georgia Totto O’Keeffe was born in 1887 near Sun Prairie, Wis., where she lived until the O’Keeffe family moved to Williamsburg, Va., in 1902. She attended and graduated from Chatham Episcopal Institute (Chatham Hall) in 1905. O’Keeffe then enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1905-6 where she took life drawing with John Vanderpoel, author of The Human Figure, a famous anatomy textbook first published in 1907. Bram Dijkstra says that Vanderpoel “insisted that his students must learn to let the lines of the body express the essential but largely intangible correspondence between our emotions and the shapes of nature” (Dijkstra, Bram, Georgia O’Keeffe and the Eros of Place. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998, p. 57).
O’Keeffe chose to continue her art studies in 1907- 08 at the Art Students League in New York. She was a student of William Merritt Chase, and, although she was not interested in painting the still lifes or impressionist landscapes that were his specialty, she did appreciate his virtuosic brushwork and his love of color.
In 1911, O’Keeffe returned to Virginia to be a substitute teacher at Chatham Hall and to help her family, now living in Charlottesville. O’Keeffe attended a 1912 summer session drawing class at the University of Virginia, taught by Alon Bement whose teaching was closely based on that of Arthur Wesley Dow. Dow’s highly influential book, Composition, was first published in 1899, and by 1913 was already in its seventh edition. As head of the Art Education Department at Columbia Teachers College, Dow was widely influential. In the words of art historian Kathleen Pyne, “Dow’s design process emphasizes the framing of a motif—its placement on the surface and its relation to the whole space—and the study of notan, or the relation between light and dark tonalities. . . Based on the lessons of the Japanese print, Dow’s illustrations taught the Photo-Secessionists as well as O’Keeffe’s generation of modernists how to pull out the frame vertically or horizontally and arrange the motif on the surface for surprisingly intimate effects.”
Along with her 1914-15 classes at Teachers College, Columbia University, O’Keeffe’s artistic development included visiting the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, or 291 as it was generally known, which from 1905 to 1917 showcased modern European and American art, often exhibiting artists for the first time in this country. O’Keeffe attended the controversial exhibition of Auguste Rodin’s watercolor nudes in 1908 while a student at the Art Students League, but it was not until 1915 that she met the charismatic and opinionated Alfred Stieglitz, founder of the gallery with fellow photographer Edward Steichen. Stieglitz produced the highly influential magazine Camera Work from 1903 until 1917, one of the publications that O’Keeffe read, along with The Masses, to keep up with developments in Modernism when she was not in New York.
O’Keeffe was teaching at Columbia College in South Carolina when she had her artistic breakthrough, producing a series of highly abstract, charcoal drawings that she sent to her friend Anita Pollitzer in New York, who had been a fellow student at Columbia Teachers College. Pollitzer took the works to Stieglitz, who included them in a group show at 291 in May 1916. Stieglitz gave O’Keeffe her first solo exhibition at 291 in April 1917, and she did travel to New York in June in order to see it. Stieglitz began photographing her that summer. Shortly afterwards, she returned to her teaching job at West Texas State Normal College in Canyon but in 1918 she accepted Stieglitz’s offer of support for a year so that she could concentrate on art and no longer have to teach. Stieglitz was 54 and married, although unhappily, yet he and O’Keeffe began a personal relationship in the summer of 1918 and, when Stieglitz was granted a divorce in 1924, he and O’Keeffe married.
Despite controversy over what critics and the public saw as sexual imagery in her work, a controversy which had been fueled by an exhibition of intimate photographs Stieglitz made of O’Keeffe from 1917 to 1919 and exhibited in 1921, O’Keeffe saw her sales increase steadily and she easily became the most successful artist in the Stieglitz Circle. After 291 closed in 1917, Stieglitz directed the Intimate Gallery (1925-29) and An American Place (1929-1946). Unlike her abstractions of the nineteen-teens which had been deeply influenced by Wassily Kandinsky and Dow, O’Keeffe’s work in the decade of the 1920s was more pictorial than wholly abstract, including large-scale images of flowers as well as urban architecture inspired by time spent at Lake George in upstate New York and in New York City. She used a minimum of detail and strong, saturated color.
In the early 1930s, O’Keeffe suffered from mental and physical breakdowns. Over the decade, she spent more and more time away from Lake George and from Stieglitz, with whom she had an increasingly difficult relationship. She did continue her annual exhibitions at An American Place through 1950. After a summer visit to the Taos ranch of art patron Mabel Dodge Luhan in 1929, O’Keeffe would return again and again to New Mexico. While there, she painted the Southwest landscapes and churches, bones and rocks. In 1940, she bought her house at Ghost Ranch, and in 1945 an abandoned adobe building at Abiquiu. When Stieglitz became ill, she did return to New York in the years before his death in 1946 to care for him, but, after settling his estate, she moved permanently to Abiquiu in 1949. Although she was never completely out of the public eye, her retrospective at the Whitney in 1970 revived critical interest in her work, revealing her as an original American woman artist to members of the burgeoning feminist movement. O’Keeffe’s work also seemed a precursor of Minimalism, so the last two decades of her life her work seemed especially relevant. O’Keeffe was the first woman to be honored with a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1962, and received the Medal of Freedom from President Gerald Ford in 1977.
O’Keeffe had lost her central vision by 1971, but, using her peripheral vision, she continued to paint. She also traveled widely, to Morocco, Central America, the Caribbean and Hawaii. As she lost more of her vision, she was encouraged by her studio assistant Juan Hamilton to begin work hand-building pots in clay. In 1986, O’Keeffe died in Santa Fe at the age of 98, having lived an extraordinary life and leaving an outstanding legacy of over two thousand works.
Reynolda, in Winston-Salem, N.C., is a rare gem among the nation’s cultural institutions and historic greenspaces. The 54-year-old museum at the center of Reynolda’s 170 acres, Reynolda House Museum of American Art presents a renowned art collection in a historic and incomparable setting: the original 1917 interiors of Katharine and R. J. Reynolds’s historic home. Spanning 250 years, the collection is an uncompromisingly selective one, a chronology of American art, with each artist represented by one work of major significance. The Reynolda experience includes a free app called Reynolda Revealed; touring exhibitions in the museum’s Mary and Charlie Babcock Wing; formal gardens, conservatory and walking trails of Reynolda Gardens; and more than 25 of the estate’s original buildings repurposed as shops and restaurants in Reynolda Village. Reynolda, located at 2250 Reynolda Road, is part of Wake Forest University. For more information, please visit reynolda.org. Connect at facebook.com/rhmaa and @CurateReynolda.
Above image: Georgia O'Keeffe, Cedar Tree with Lavender Hills, 1937, Promised Gift of Barbara B. Millhouse, © 2021 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York