Archive | Art Matters

Georgia O’Keeffe on Our Mind

Though the painter Georgia O’Keeffe has been dead for thirty years, she is remembered best as an old woman clad in billowing robes and squinting against a Southwestern sky. This is more unusual than you might think, for once most people die, their oldest self is not what lingers in our memory. Instead, a younger iteration is restored to our consciousness, a la Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” or “Thriller”-era Michael Jackson. Just the fact that it’s not preposterous to compare O’Keeffe to these two pop touchstones says a lot about the iconic status she actively cultivated in her later years. This spring, a Brooklyn Museum of Art exhibit, Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern examines how she subverted conventional tropes of gender, age, and beauty with a dry eye still very much admired today – and how she served as both art and artist long before such a conflation of roles was common.

Curated by Stanford art historian Wanda M. Corn, the show (which later will travel to the Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts) includes dozens of O’Keeffe paintings and a few of her sculptures, as well as key elements of the artist’s wardrobe, much of which she made herself. (Her boast of being a “wonderful seamstress” in her autobiography is not wrong, if characteristically immodest.) The show also includes nearly a hundred photographs of O’Keeffe by such twentieth-century heavy-hitters as husband Alfred Stieglitz, and Ansel Adams, Cecil Beaton, Andy Warhol, Bruce Weber, and Irving Penn. Continue Reading →

Lady-Made Nature

I had another bad writing day–can I write a book? is this something that should even happen?–so I put on my raincoat and sailed into this stormy day to look at paintings. Fine arts is a relatively new fascination for me. My mom has a BFA from Massachusetts College of Arts so I always focused more on film and literature (and fashion, who am I kidding?). Recently, though, I’ve really fallen in love with the rainbow time capsule offered by painting and, to a lesser degree, sculpture; I’ve even written critical essays about a few key shows this year.

I went to the Rachel Uffner gallery to ogle “Same Space, Different Day,” an exhibition featuring the paintings of Shara Hughes, who captures the glee of childhood with an old soul scope and a punkrock fairytale palette. Man o man, do I love her work. I first noticed it a year ago–she doesn’t live far from me in the Williamsburg-Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn–and today was lucky enough to talk to Ullner herself about what makes Hughes unique to people far savvier than me. Continue Reading →

The Magic Social Realism of Alice Neel

Though it was widely accepted that the artist Alice Neel was a big fibber, her boast that she was “old as the century” was never a falsehood. Born January 28, 1900, she grew up with the twentieth century, and the trajectory of her life – her struggles, her triumphs –twinned that of our country though significant success eluded her until she was in her sixties. Today, her hard gems of truth and beauty continue to find new audiences, most recently via “Alice Neel, Uptown,” an exhibition of her portraits at New York’s David Zwirner Gallery. I believe this is because her work, like Neel herself, was not just a product of its time but also ahead of it.

Neel first came on my radar last year, when I was cruising through a gallery of contemporary paintings at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Though I was rushing, I screeched to a full stop in front of “John I. H. Baur,” her 1974 portrait of a former museum department head. With a palette of slate and ochre and a bold, almost slapdash brushstroke, she’d conveyed the man as both an institutional hack and a bemused enabler. It was a funny portrait but rueful and rich, too. I rushed on, but when I saw the Zwirner gallery was hosting a show of her work, I hightailed over not once but thrice. These paintings of her family, neighbors, friends, lovers, and political comrades in Spanish Harlem and the Upper West Side are not perfect. In some cases, they could ask more; they could tell more. But they grip as few twentieth-century portraits do because they are so vibrant, so cock-sure – and so defiantly resonant.

Though his book, White Girls, offers general cultural commentary, Hilton Als is employed by The New Yorker as a critic of theater, not fine arts. Yet he curated this Zwirner exhibition, perhaps because Neel’s intensely democratic curiosity snags his own. (His book on the topic will be released this June.) In a catalog essay, he shares what this child of West Indian immigrants, raised in deep Brooklyn to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, initially recognized in her work Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy