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A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Exhibit: "Georgia O'Keeffe: Living Modern"

Photo: courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

Georgia O'Keeffe Exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum

Georgia O'Keeffe: Living Modern focuses on the American modernist artist's wardrobe and how it relates to her art. The exhibition brings together many of O'Keeffe's personal garments, paintings, sculptures, and photographs of her personal style and home. It explores her artistic values, her independent lifestyle, and her philosophy that art should not be separate from life.

O'Keeffe was known for her individualism, plainness, and toughness. Born in 1887, she became an art teacher when her family's finances ended her art studies. It was in a summer art class in 1912 that she met Arthur Wesley Dow. An American painter influenced by Japanese art, Dow taught his students how to use line and color to create the beauty of nature and how to capture the essence of reality, then simplify it. He also introduced the concept that our homes could be an expression of our personal selves. The O'Keeffe exhibition shows how Dow's "most talented" student took his philosophy and adapted it in her art, her homes, her wardrobe, and her lifestyle.

At age 30, O'Keefe gave up her teaching career and moved to New York to paint full time. A friend had shown some of her charcoal sketches to photographer and art dealer Alfred Stieglitz, who gave her a one-person exhibition. About the same time, Stieglitz taught her how to pose and made his first of many photographs of her.

O'Keeffe and Stieglitz lived together, marrying in 1924 after his divorce was finalized. Their marriage lasted until his death in 1946. Although O'Keeffe had a well-defined personality when she met Stieglitz, he taught her how to use her wardrobe to reinforce her image and helped her refine her aesthetic.

Stieglitz photographed O'Keeffe in black and white for many years, and he organized her first museum exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in 1927.

O'Keeffe developed an independent style of dressing early. The fashion for young women in the early 20th century was dresses with lace, ruffles, pleats, and tiny waists, along with large hair bows. O'Keeffe's personal style was much simpler. Her dresses had little or no ornamentation. Though she eschewed lace and ruffles in her teens, many of the blouses she wore in later years had lace trims, pin tucks, and ties at the neck to soften the severity of her black suits.

After she moved to New York and during the 1920s and 1930s, she adhered to a black-and-white wardrobe. Her standard summer outfit was a black skirt and white blouse. In winter, black was dominant in her wardrobe and her art. When she moved to New Mexico after Stieglitz died, she adopted a simple western look of jeans and shirts and wraparound dresses for everyday. From the 1960s through the 1980s, O'Keeffe's two signature outfits were the wrap dress and the black suit.

During the early years, O'Keeffe made most of her clothes and was known for her sewing skills. The tunics in the first group of garments are nicely made in lightweight silk. Since these dresses were carefully stored and moved from one residence to the next for more than 50 years, exhibit curator Wanda M. Corn concluded that they were meaningful to O'Keeffe and perhaps she had saved them because she had personally sewn the dresses and tunics. She continues with this supposition and attributes many garments without labels to O'Keeffe.

However, close examination of some garments could lead to different conclusions. For instance, a kimono in the collection labeled a "unique" design may have been custom made for O'Keefe rather than self-sewn because of a poor pattern match on the left sleeve, which an exacting artist would likely not have planned and sewn. 

Here are some of the highlights from the exhibition:

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Exhibit:
(Photo: courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum)

From the 1920s, tunics were worn over an underdress of the same fabric. This ensemble is silk crepe and attributed to O'Keeffe.

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Exhibit:
An apparent O'Keeffe favorite, this linen blouse from the mid-1930s was mended twice at the back neckline. The blouse has an elaborate pin-tucked design with two large motifs at center front, which may represent shells or leaves, to frequent motifs in the artist's painting. The blouse, whose pin tucks were hand-sewn, is attributed to O'Keeffe.

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Exhibit:
Although O'Keeffe disliked ruffles and flourishes, she had a penchant for blouses with intricate detailing.

The bib, tie, and sleeves feature pin tucks in a cross-hatch pattern. The fabric would have been pin-tucked on grain then the pin-tucked sections would have been cut on the bias. The bib is sewn to the bodice with fagoting. Narrow ruffles with hand-rolled hems trim the edges of the bib, end of the ties, and front band.

On the detail at right, above, notice the pin-tuck pattern on the yoke, fagoting, and the tiny hems on the ruffles.

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Exhibit:
This elegant kimono-style evening coat is trimmed with a white silk collar, lapel, and appliqué. The facing is handpainted.

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Exhibit:
The appliquéd satin motif on the coat is reminiscent of Art Nouveau details.

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Exhibit:
Attributed to Zoë de Salle, this cape is from the late 1930s. De Salle was known for her timeless capes, which were made from the best fabrics. This monastic design features a tie at the neck edge.

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Exhibit:

The 1954 "Chute" dress was one of Emilio Pucci's first dresses sold in America. "Chute" shorthand for parachute has no waist seam but flares from the waist when belted. The black sections extend from the shoulder to the hem in a geometric pattern. There are no photographs of O'Keeffe wearing the dress, but there were handkerchiefs in the side pockets when it was cataloged, indicating it was worn. O'Keeffe liked the layered look and frequently added contrast cuffs and collars. Here, the collar is replaced by a single band on one side of the neckline.

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Exhibit:
(Photo: courtesy of the Brooklyn Musuem) This installation view shows O'Keeffe's art with the Pucci "Chute" dress.


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Comments (6)

MakingitWork MakingitWork writes: She had style, talent and above all was her own unique self. We could learn something there.

Posted: 3:33 pm on August 9th

Djygi Djygi writes: Interesting is this style
Posted: 2:39 am on August 3rd

danielwatson danielwatson writes: Wonderful! Now this is something looks cool...
Posted: 1:38 am on July 26th

Ethan56 Ethan56 writes: What a great style, I love those creations.
Posted: 10:40 am on June 21st

bortsaaa bortsaaa writes: Each of them is amazing, I would love to wear them.
Posted: 1:52 pm on June 20th

Pixelsar Pixelsar writes:
This Is a style
Posted: 2:54 am on June 20th

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