The life and work of Georgia OKeeffe have fascinated critics, scholars, and art lovers alike since she burst onto the New York art scene in the early 1900s. On June 7, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
adds a chapter to this story with the first exhibition to explore the role of the influential American modernist painter Arthur Dove as the key figure in OKeeffes development of abstraction as a means of artistic expression. Dove/OKeeffe: Circles of Influence will feature 60 major oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, and pastels spanning 1910 to the early 1940s. Among the seminal works on view will be OKeeffes Dark Abstraction (1924) and Jack-in-The Pulpit No. VI (1930), and Doves Moon (1935) and Fog Horns (1929). The Clark is the exclusive venue for this exhibition, which will be on view through September 7, 2009.
Although Dove and OKeeffes approach to imagery ultimately diverged, their shared interest in capturing the ephemeral, fugitive traits of naturethe play of light on water, the transitions of the sun and moon, and the rustle of the wind through grasswas the basis for an abiding commitment to each others works and a profound aesthetic connection that lasted throughout their lifetimes.
Georgia OKeeffe has captured the imagination of art lovers around the world, not only by virtue of her incredible talent, but through her bohemian spirit as well, said Clark director Michael Conforti. The Clark is excited to look for the first time at OKeeffes early modernist work along with the work of the extraordinary artist Arthur Dove, examining their shared influence on each others works.
From the start of her career, OKeeffe credited a reproduction of a Dove pastel as her introduction to modernism. Doves use of sensual, abstract forms to evoke the flowing rhythms and patterns of nature had already put him at the forefront of the American modernist movement by the time OKeeffe entered the scene around 1916. Dove had been featured at the renowned photographer Alfred Stieglitzs New York gallery 291 in 1912, and OKeeffes work was first shown there in 1916. Works from this period, including Doves Abstraction, No. 3 (1910-11) and OKeeffes No. 24-Special/No. 24 (1916-17), established the innovative aesthetic vision that characterized their early work.
During the 1920s and 1930s, critics began to take serious note of the two artists as major American modernist painters. In particular, the critics began to read the paintings from a Freudian point of view, pairing Dove and OKeeffe as representative of the masculine and feminine. Unlike Dove, OKeeffe reacted strongly against these psychoanalytic readings of her work, arguing for a more formal interpretation. Dove, always a strong and vocal supporter of OKeeffe, ultimately used the Freudian interpretation in defense of OKeeffes work.
OKeeffes influence on Dove can be seen in the 1930s, when he turned to her early works, particularly her watercolors, such as Sunrise (1916), as means through which to renew his own work and vision. Although OKeeffe had long abandoned the medium, Dove created a number of important works including Sunrise #1 (1936) during this period, when he found his inspiration in what he called OKeeffes burning watercolors.
The paintings from the exhibition will be drawn from international public and private collections. The exhibition features works once owned by Alfred Stieglitz, OKeeffes husband and Doves longtime friend, as well as works from the Georgia OKeeffe Museum. This exhibition is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
The exhibition is organized by the Clark and is curated by Debra Bricker Balken, an independent curator specializing in American modernism and contemporary art who organized a Dove retrospective in 1997.