Laura Gilpin (United States, 1891–1979), “Georgia O’Keeffe,” 1953, gelatin silver print, 9 3/8 x 7 7/16 inches, Amon Carter Museum , Forth Worth, Texas . Bequest of the artist. P1979.130.6

PORTLAND, ME.- This summer, the Portland Museum of Art presents an exhibition of photographs of Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986), one of the most significant artists of the 20th century. This is the first exhibition to pair paintings and photographs to establish two opposing public images of the artist. The exhibition includes 60 photographs of Georgia O’Keeffe, along with 18 works by the artist, that address the relationship between her art and images taken of her during the course of her long career. Georgia O’Keeffe and the Camera: The Art of Identity features works by such famous photographers as Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, Todd Webb, Irving Penn, and Arnold Newman. The exhibition will be on view through September 7, 2008.

Georgia O’Keeffe is best known for her paintings of large-scale flowers, New York cityscapes, animal bones, and the landscape of New Mexico. Her extraordinary career focused first on a highly innovative exploration of abstraction and shifted towards powerful representation and heightened realism after the mid-1920s. Georgia O’Keeffe and the Camera: The Art of Identity explores the essential role that photography played in establishing her reputation, promoting her career, and creating her public persona. O’Keeffe’s lasting fame rests on the strength of her work and the romantic story of her life. Photographs made by her art dealer-husband, her friends, celebrity portraitists, and photojournalists all serve to tell various versions of that tale.

O’Keeffe and her connection with photography began with Alfred Stieglitz in New York in 1917. Early in her career, she was primarily an abstract artist and a leading member of one of the avant-garde art movements that blossomed in New York in the 1910s and 1920s.

It was Stieglitz’s version of O’Keeffe’s life, told through the eyes of a modern art impresario and impassioned lover, which captured the critics’ attention and the press. His photographs of O’Keeffe established her first public image as a sexually liberated woman. Stieglitz not only photographed her, but promoted her work at his gallery and they were later married.

A shift in O’Keeffe’s persona and art can be seen after she traveled from New York to New Mexico in 1929. Photographs of O’Keeffe in New Mexico by photographers such as Ansel Adams, John Loengard, and Todd Webb increasingly shaped a new public image of the artist—as a rugged individualist whose hard work and determination allowed her to realize herself fully as an artist and a person. She finally settled in New Mexico in 1949.

O’Keeffe posed for the leading celebrity portraitists of her day including Yousuf Karsh, Arnold Newman, and Irving Penn. By allowing magazine photographers into her two homes at Abiquiu and the Ghost Ranch, O’Keeffe further supplied the public with views and written descriptions of her private world. Fusing traditional New Mexican architecture with her taste for modern design, O’Keeffe’s homes came to represent Santa Fe modernism—simple, planar, organic architectural forms that provided the perfect domestic setting for her paintings. By consciously cultivating press coverage of her career and her lifestyle, O’Keeffe achieved and maintained celebrity status for decades, not only in the art world, but also in the population at large. O’Keefe’s astute understanding of the power of the photographic image became a critical tool in fashioning her popular identity and a key to her abiding fame.

Along with photographs, the exhibition showcases examples of O’Keeffe’s paintings and works on paper that mark major moments in the development of her art: the early abstract drawings, the large-scale depictions of flowers as if seen close up, the first landscapes in New Mexico from the 1930s, and the late architectural studies of her homes at the Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu.

Co-curators for the exhibition are Susan Danly, Curator of Graphics, Photography, and Contemporary Art, Portland Museum of Art, and Barbara Buhler Lynes, Curator, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and the Emily Fisher Landau Director, Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Research Center.

Georgia O’Keeffe and the Camera: The Art of Identity will travel to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe where it will be on view from September 26, 2008 through February 1, 2009.


Yousuf Karsh ( Canada , born Armenia , 1908­–2002), “Georgia O’Keeffe,” 1956, gelatin silver print, 39 x 29 1/2 inches. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe