Fashion show: O’Keeffe’s outfits and art on display

Painted desert: O’Keeffe is well known for painting massive flowers and animal skulls.
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It’s the clothes that make the artist.

A new exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum unveils the fashionable side of pioneering modernist painter Georgia O’Keeffe — famed for her New York cityscapes and brightly colored images of suspiciously yonic flowers. “Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern,” on display through July 23, pairs the artist’s work with garments from her wardrobe to demonstrate how carefully she crafted her austere public image, said the show’s curator.

“She liked to curate her body. She liked to really be in charge of how she fashioned herself,” said Wanda Corn. “And by looking at the material culture she left behind we realize that her aesthetic philosophy was not just something she practiced in the studio, but something she practiced in her everyday life.”

The show tracks the parallels between her art and outfits by pairing 50 pieces of O’Keeffe’s work with 50 of her garments and accessories — eight of which she designed and sewed herself. It covers each stage of her career, from emerging artist to successful New York City painter, as well as her later years in New Mexico.

In the 1920s and ’30s, a black-and-white palette dominated her work and dress, while towards the end of her career, the warm hues of the Southwestern landscape seeped into her art and clothing. The never-before-seen pairing of her wardrobe and art taps into a side of O’Keeffe that has never been seen before, said Corn.

“I think that’s what makes it an exciting show. It shows a different side of her that we just haven’t been able to evoke,” said Corn. “For me, it shows her dedication to a single aesthetic. She liked to put it that she was, ‘Filling a space in a beautiful way,’ and people are always quoting that about her painting, but that can also be said about the way she fashioned herself — her image.”

That meticulous fashion is also captured in nearly 100 photographs from art photography giants, including O’Keeffe’s husband, Alfred Stieglitz, and photographers Ansel Adams and Todd Webb. The portraits allowed O’Keeffe to create her public image, and solidified her status as a style icon, said Corn.

“We use photos not just to document how she dressed, but how art photographers fashioned a persona for her,” said Corn. “Eventually there became a kind of iconic way for her posing alone, in the landscape, or in her home, sitting very contemplatively. There is a remoteness, a spiritual quality.”

This is the second major show dedicated to O’Keeffe at the Brooklyn Museum, which hosted the artist’s first solo show in 1927.

“Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern” at the Brooklyn Museum (200 Eastern Pkwy. at Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights). On display through July 23, Wed–Sun 11 am–6 pm. $20 ($12 students, seniors, and on select evenings).

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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