I’ve always loved Georgia O’Keeffe’s art, and admired the passion with which she worked and lived. So when the Whitney opened its show, Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstractions (Yale Univ., $65), I was as exited as I’d been when I saw the National Gallery’s retrospective after her death. Beginning around 1915, O’Keeffe drew and painted abstract work, influenced by the writings of Arthur Wesley Dow and teachers who spread Dow’s ideas. At the Art Students League, she took classes and explored the galleries, learning techniques and seeing the works of artists like Picasso. During this time she met Alfred Stieglitz, who became her lover and later her husband. O’Keeffe is best known for her images of flowers and cattle skulls, but her abstractions are another impressive side of her talent. When the show comes to the Phillips (which mounted the exhibit in association with the Whitney and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum), early next year, I’ll be able to see these works in yet another setting and again I’ll find something new.
Paul Klee famously described his artistic method as “taking a line for a walk.” Sculptor Alexander Calder charmingly walked his line into the third dimension. The exhibit (now at the Whitney Museum) and its catalog, Alexander Calder: The Paris Years, 1926-1933 (Whitney/Centre Pompidou/Yale Univ., $60)—written and edited by co-curators Joan Simon and Brigitte Leal—demonstrates how Calder made crucial stylistic breakthroughs during his sojourn overseas. A genius with wire and pliers, he created portraits of friends and celebrities. He showed a special affinity for animals, and his Circus—movable beasts and performers made of wire, cloth, and wood—was the hit of Paris. Later, Calder created his first delicate, abstract mobiles and stabiles there. This is an inspiring book, bursting with creative joy.
I coveted Georgia O’keeffe And Ansel Adams: Natural Affinities (Little, Brown, $40) from the first moment I saw it. Quite simply, it’s a beautiful book. Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams have never been paired together in a book, but it’s an affiliation that works on many levels. Both were inspired by the dramatic natural surroundings of the American West. Their work, while different in style, shares a similar approach to light, texture, and composition. The juxtaposition of O’Keeffe’s simple lines and soft colors with Adams’s black-and-white photographs deepens a viewer’s appreciation of each. The accompanying essays illuminate the artists’ lives, inspiration, and lifelong friendship. (Don’t miss the exhibit of these artists’ work at the American Art Museum, on display through January 4.)