Close-ups of flowers, reproduced on thousands of posters that adorn student walls, that’s what Georgia O’Keeffe does. It’s true that is what she does do but she is also so much more than that. Cityscapes, landscapes, cloudscapes and bones, lots of bones: she painted them all. Her images are so familiar that it came as a shock to discover that there are none of her works in UK public collections. Now though, Tate Modern has gathered together over 100 works from more than 60 lenders across 23 US states. If you live in Europe, this will be your best chance to see Georgia O’Keefe paintings for a generation.
Georgia O’Keeffe had a long life, nearly 100 years, and one that took her from rural Wisconsin, via New York to New Mexico. 1887-1986 saw enormous changes in society, technology and communication. All of those big contrasts in landscape and changes in the world are reflected in her work. New York Street with Moon shows blocky interwar sky scrapers lit with a pool of street light and the moon set in a field of clouds. It’s not photorealism but you still get an enormous sense of time and place.
Flowers pop up early in the exhibition as Georgia O’Keeffe plays with swirls of a rose but have to wait until room 6 before you are rewarded with a whole bouquet. Bindweed (although, because O’Keefe was American, the picture is entitled Jimson Weed), Cala Lilies and Poppies all fill the room. It is the Jimson Weed that has made it to the posters for the exhibition but my favourite is the Poppies. All red orange petals and deep sooty centres, caught in that moment before the rain or wind despoils them.
Bones, there are lots of bones on display. Georgia O’Keeffe was fascinated by them. We see them sun-bleached and scattered across the parched Mexican landscape that she made her home. In another series of paintings, she paints a pelvic bone in such close up that it stops being a bone and becomes an abstract shape instead, all blue and white shapes. Not the stuff of popular posters but stunning all the same.
The Junior CW’s came with me to see the exhibition. I confess that I did wonder what a pair of tweens would get out of a series of flower paintings, but an invitation and an inset day clashed and so off we all went. Turns out that Georgia O’Keeffe is about so much more than flowers and both of them enjoyed themselves, so if you have teens in tow don’t hesitate to visit.
People are saying very positive things about the restaurant in the Switch House (Tate Modern’s new extension) but the Junior CW’s love Borough Market. I had had my choice of outing and lunch was theirs. Hog roast bap for them and chaat for me – very tasty.
GEORGIA O’KEEFFE at TATE MODERN
6 July 2016 – 30 October 2016
Open daily 10am – 6pm (until 10pm on Friday and Saturday)
Admission: Adult £17.20, children under 12 free, concessions available