Waiting in lines ranks high on my list of un-fun activities. But if you're going to wait, you could do worse than standing feet away from ancient Roman marble sculptures and mosaics. The line at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to see the new Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at last night’s member preview stretched half the length of the second-floor corridor. Interest in the artists appears to be alive and well.
I’ll admit I’m not one of O'Keeffe’s most ardent admirers. My opinion of the artist, though, derives as much from the popularization of her work as from the work itself. Circling Around Abstraction, which is organized by a theme—the circular motif in O'Keeffe’s work—implicitly counters assumptions about the artist’s intentions and explicitly underscores the premise that she was first and foremost interested in abstraction. The show asks viewers to look at O'Keeffe’s work as an abstraction first and a thing (flower, bone, etc.) second.
The circle motif makes sense as a portal to a view of O'Keeffe’s work that is as much abstract as it is realistic. “Nothing is less real than realism,” O'Keeffe said, and when you take a good long look at, say, White Rose Abstraction (1927), one of the flower compositions for which O'Keeffe has gained so much acclaim in recent years, it makes perfect sense. Suddenly, it's less a flower and more a spiral of white and grays and bluish green that embodies the essence of a flower.
Certain shapes cut across decades. Blue II, from the 1920s, is a whorl of varying shades of azure in a shape resembling the rounded crest of a wave. In an untitled work from the 1970s (the first image above), that same whorl pops up in shades of red and orange (still with a streak of blue). It’s interesting to make those connections. While not every piece in the show is as compelling as the next, the net effect is to recast O'Keeffe a bit; to give her an enigmatic edge that mass marketing had dulled considerably.
Georgia O'Keeffe: Circling Around Abstraction opens today and runs through January 6 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.