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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Georgia O’Keeffe and the Women of the Stieglitz Circle at the San Diego Museum of Art

Gertrude Kasebier, "the Red Man", 1900

The SDMA is just on the other side of the street from the SDAI and Ricardo and I decide to go to see Georgia O’Keeffe and the Women of the Stieglitz Circle:
Gertrude Käsebier, Pamela Colman Smith, Anne Brigman, and Katharine Rhoades. I am excited to see which pieces by Georgia O’Keeffe are in the exhibition and I am interested to discover the other artists whom I barely know.

We start with the photos of Gertrude Kasebier. The first one is striking: “The Red Man” (1900): this is the first photo in this series of pictures that is more than one hundred years old. This Native American man looks at us with his soft smile and I wonder what is on his mind.
I love “The Sketch” (1903): a woman in the dark shade of trees next to a field. She wears a long dress or a skirt and she reads a book (or is she drawing?). It is difficult to say, everything is very dark, even if the scene seems to happen during the day. It's like day for night.

Gertrude Kasebier, "The Picture Book" (1903)

In “The picture Book” (1903) a woman and a child sit in the shade under a small tree. The woman points to something on the book the child holds in his lap. Very quiet picture. I cannot help thinking about the moment when the photo was taken. It was the present then and now it belongs to the past: the woman and the child are now certainly gone.
There is a well-known portrait of a more than life size figure: Auguste Rodin in his studio.

There are a lot of photographs here and almost none of them are contrasted. It gives a lot of depth and softness.

Then a series of work by Anne Brigman. She took a lot of nude self portraits in dramatic desert landscapes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. “Soul of the blasted pine” (1907) and “The Pine Spririt” are surprisingly contemporary, the naked woman being in timeless landscapes, it suddenly feels very close to our time.

One set of the most wellknown work by Pamela Colman is here: the rider-Waite tarot deck.

Georgia O'Keeffe, "Pink Tulip" (1926)

Then the series of works by Georgia O’Keeffe is introduced by “Pink Tulip” (1926): colorful, strong, determined and at the same time very soft. Not far “Canyon with crows” (watercolor and graphite on paper, 1917) shows her attraction for the desert long before she lived in Ghost Ranch in New Mexico and was certainly painted while she was in Texas.

I remember going to Ghost Ranch in 1999, to see the landscapes that inspired her and to hike in those canyons. There are many amazing places in New Mexico and Ghost Ranch is one of them. Changing colors, cacti and rocks on scorched land: and all the cliffs, plateaus, valleys, canyons, sandy buttes, creeks and nested villages are part of an empty and dense, unforgettable landscape.

“The house with tree – Green” (1918): simple shapes, beautiful lights, the black does not cover the surface and one can see spots of the white paper illuminating the piece. “Lake George with crows” is a very subtle landscape, with almost no detail but everything is there. Dense and dark colors.
All of the paintings I see are extremely structured and yet fluid. They are not detailed in the classic way but the essential lines are there. They exude force and calm. Their presence is strong but they do not shout.

A portrait of Georgia O'Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz in 1918: there is almost no contrast, she is leaning on a trunk of a tree. Her beautiful hands touch the trunk. The only white in the picture is a small piece of her sleeve at her wrist.

It is an intimate exhibition, with a lot of small pieces. I definitely feel welcome in this place filled with good vibrations from all these strong female characters. But I regret that there is almost nothing from the period when Georgia O'Keeffe painted the desert in New Mexico.

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