There are few artists in history whose work is consistently reduced to the single question: flowers or vaginas?
But a new Tate Modern retrospective of Georgia O’Keeffe, a giant of American 20th-century modernism, is to challenge the “conservative male” – and widely accepted – assumptions that her famous flowers paintings are depictions of female genitalia.
The show, which opens in July, will be the UK’s largest ever exhibition of O’Keeffe’s work and will be Tate Modern’s first show since its £26m revamp. Featuring more than 100 works, which have rarely left America since her death in 1986, it will display her 1932 Jimson Weed painting, which in 2014 became the most expensive painting sold at auction by a female artist when it was bought for $44.4m.
It has been exactly a century since O’Keeffe first showed her work at 291 gallery in New York, and she is still considered one of the most celebrated painters of the 20th century.
She is best known for her large-scale studies of flowers, painted as if looking at them through a magnifying glass. However, since the early 1920s the vast oil works have been dogged by erotic interpretations and, despite O’Keeffe’s six decades of vigorous denial that her paintings were in any way sexual, it remains a commonly held assumption to this day.
Achim Borchardt-Hume, the Tate Modern’s director of exhibitions, said a key reason for hosting the retrospective was to offer O’Keeffe the “multiple readings” she had been denied in the past as a female artist.
“O’Keeffe has been very much reduced to one particular body of work, which tends to be read in one particular way,” he said. “Many of the white male artists across the 20th century have the privilege of being read on multiple levels, while others – be they women or artists from other parts of the world – tend to be reduced to one conservative reading. It’s high time that galleries and museums challenge this.” [Read More]