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Sunday, October 17, 2021

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Unsung Role as Patron and Collector

Marsden Hartley was another artist O’Keeffe thoroughly admired, and she once wrote that his work was akin to “a brass band in a small closet.” The two were deeply influenced by their local landscape and a sense of place, sharing an appreciation for regions outside major cities and depicting the sublime in styles that were emotionally and formally resonant as opposed to realistic and exacting.

History’s reliance on a clear, easy-to-digest narrative of Stieglitz as the center point of the modernist art world is partially to blame for O’Keeffe’s lack of acknowledgment. Stieglitz himself was a fierce advocate for her, and their relationship was built on a sense of mutual respect—when he first saw her works, he famously exclaimed, “Finally, a woman on paper!” In his role as curator and dealer, Stieglitz lobbied for collectors and curators to hold O’Keeffe and her work in the same regard as the other modern masters, all male, that claimed space on 291’s walls. He was never shy about his admiration for O’Keeffe, in letters filled with purple prose and sentiments that describe a man hopelessly in love. To illustrate this point, the Reynolda’s wall text begins with an epigraph from Stieglitz: “She is the Spirit of 291, not I.” Stieglitz would echo this sentiment at An American Place, writing in a 1934 letter: “The Place comes before all—and Georgia is of The Place.”

The second room of “The O’Keeffe Circle” focuses on the artist’s personal collection, showcasing the art that she herself lived with and illuminating her approach to acquiring; above all, it appears that she cherished simplicity. Reynolda specifically highlights an Arthur Dove painting, Dancing (1934), and works by the Japanese artist , who influenced her style much more than the European modernists that enamored her peers. The exhibition also features an akari paper lantern, modeled after one gifted to the artist by . This lamp was one of the only light sources in O’Keeffe’s home, aside from her large picture windows—one can imagine the mood once the gallery lights are dimmed. O’Keeffe also owned a large mobile, a crown jewel that often appears in the background of portraits of the artists.

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