Georgia O’Keefe at the Art Gallery of Ontario

This past Saturday, I hopped on the subway and headed downtown to see the Georgia O’Keeffe retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Here is a brief review.

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ABOVE: Georgia O’Keeffe, My Front Yard, Summer, 1941, oil on canvas, 20 x 30 inches

BELOW: Georgia O’Keefe, Nature Forms – Gaspe, 1932, oil on canvas

Georgia O’Keeffe had a long and storied career that spanned many decades, so a full accounting of her life and work would be a tall order for any institution. That said, the people who put this exhibition together tried, and for that they deserve credit. This show isn’t perfect, but it’s still pretty good. Here are my thoughts:

There are a lot of pieces on display, and for the most part, they are shown in chronological order. While I would have liked to see more cityscapes (as they are my favorite of her works) there are at least a few key pieces from each phase of her artistic journey. Interspersed throughout, are numerous photographs of O’Keeffe, posing, and at work in her studio. These bring context to the exhibition, and being shot by the likes of Ansel Adams and Alfred Steiglitz, are exceptional on their own.

While walking through the galleries, I overheard a couple complaining that there were only “6 flowers in the show.” While this is true, the quality of what is on display is pretty impressive. O’Keeffes craft is really tight, and her paintings are very well made. You can rarely spot a pencil line in her work, which shows a strong attention to detail, and a labor intensive practice. She wasn’t whipping these things off, she was taking her time.

In terms of imagery, the retrospective does an excellent job of highlighting some of O’Keeffes many influences, namely abstraction and minimalism – her simplest works are quite calming. In terms of palette, her greens, whites and blues really pop. Her reds, not so much.

Pleasantly, there is a Canadian connection to all this, that being her painting “Nature Forms – Gaspe”. It was, by far, my favorite piece in the exhibition. It’s small, and tucked into a corner, but judging by the murmurs around it, seemed to impress everyone who saw it – not just me.

All said and done, this is a fairly well thought out exhibition, that while lacking some blockbuster pieces, gives a good accounting of the life and work of one of the 20th centuries greatest artists. If you’re a fan of her work, I highly suggest you go.

Georgia O’Keeffe is at the Art Gallery of Ontario until July 30, 2017.

The Art of Perseverance

As tough as it is to make it as an artist, it’s even tougher to do so as a woman. Louise Bourgeois managed to break through – after decades of obscurity.

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ABOVE: Louise Bourgeois, Maman, 1999, bronze, marble, and stainless steel, 364 x 350 x 402 inches, cast 2001, edition 2/6 + A. P., Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa, Photo: © Guggenhein Bilbao Museoa, Bilbao

Born in Paris in 1911, Louise Bourgeois was raised above a tapestry shop in the suburbs. Her father, an overbearing philanderer would often tease her in front of others, and her mother, albeit loving, was in many ways broken owing to her husband’s constant affairs.

In 1930, Bourgeois began studying mathematics at the Sorbonne. Although she loved math (for all its rules), she abruptly changed her major to art when her mother died in 1932. Her father wasn’t happy, and he refused to help her in any way, so, in order to obtain tuition, she worked as a translator for English speaking students.

After leaving the Sorbonne, she continued her studies at the École des Beaux-Arts and began creating artwork inspired by her relationship with her father. Later, she opened a tapestry shop beside his, and because it was a ‘real job’, he helped her do so.

It was at the shop that she met an art professor named Robert Goldwater and after a brief affair, the two married and fled to New York City. Goldwater taught art at NYU and Bourgeois attended the Art Students League of New York.

Although friends with many successful artists (such as Rothko, de Kooning and Pollock), success proved elusive for Bourgeois, and it wasn’t until the 1970’s that she began her ascent into the upper echelons of the art world. In 1982, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City held a retrospective of her work, and from then on the accolades began piling up.

When Louise Bourgeois passed away in 2010 at the age of 98, she left behind a legacy that serves, in part, as testimony to hard work and perseverance. It wasn’t easy, but she’s in her rightful place as one of contemporary arts greatest practitioners.

Art and International Law

The international community has long recognized the importance of art and culture, and on occasion, have put measures in place to protect it. Here are two examples.

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ABOVE: Taller Buddha (of the Buddha’s of Bamiyan, 4th and 5th century, Bamyan valley of central Afghanistan) in 1963 and in 2008 after destruction by the Taliban.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected and it has been translated into over 500 languages.

Article 27

Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict

The Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict was adopted at The Hague (Netherlands) in 1954 in the wake of massive destruction of cultural heritage during the Second World War. It is the first international treaty with a world-wide vocation focusing exclusively on the protection of cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict.

The High Contracting Parties,

Recognizing that cultural property has suffered grave damage during recent armed conflicts and that, by reason of the developments in the technique of warfare, it is in increasing danger of destruction;

Being convinced that damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind, since each people makes its contribution to the culture of the world;

Considering that the preservation of the cultural heritage is of great importance for all peoples of the world and that it is important that this heritage should receive international protection;

Guided by the principles concerning the protection of cultural property during armed conflict, as established in the Conventions of The Hague of 1899 and of 1907 and in the Washington Pact of 15 April, 1935;

Being of the opinion that such protection cannot be effective unless both national and international measures have been taken to organize it in time of peace;

Being determined to take all possible steps to protect cultural property.

America’s Most Famous Unfinished Artwork

This summer, I will be travelling to Boston, and when I do, I’ll be sure to swing by the Museum of Fine Arts to see Gilbert Stewart’s iconic George Washington Portrait.

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ABOVE: Gilbert Stuart, George Washington, 1796, oil on canvas, 47 x 37 inches, The Museum of Fine Arts, Photo: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In 1796, renowned portraitist Gilbert Stuart was commissioned to paint George and Martha Washington. George was reluctant to sit for another portrait (Stuart had painted him the previous year), but agreed, so long as the finished products became the property of his wife.

Before completion however, Stuart decided that he liked these portraits better than previous efforts, and in order to avoid handing them over to Martha, he deliberately left them unfinished. Even worse, he theused the president’s portrait as a model for numerous commissions, and held on to both paintings until his death in 1828.

In 1869, Stuart’s image of George Washington was placed on the $1 bill, and to this day, is one of the world’s most iconic portraits. It is owned jointly by the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I’m hoping to see it this summer.