Human Flower Project
Two Bloomers: O’Keefe and Warhol
Santa Fe show pairs the flower paintings of two 20th century masters.
Red Canna, Georgia O’Keefe, 1923
University of Arizona Art Museum
Andy, Georgia, I’m ready for my close-up.
So say the blossoms in Flowers of Distinction, an exhibition now on view at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The show includes 41 flower paintings by the Queen of the Bleached Cow Skull and the Knave of Pop.
O’Keefe’s flower paintings, many executed in the 1920s, are bee’s-eye views. They carry us through undulating landscapes of petals, stamen, pistil, a super-reality of female “privates.” Warhol’s silkscreened flowers blow hibiscus (or are they marigolds? impatiens?) up to tire-size. Foliage retains some photographic detail but the flowers themselves, like Warhol’s icons of Mao and Marilyn, are purposefully generic, the artist splashing them with color, often printing them in grids. Warhol’s flowers, the equivalent of mass plantings, may even have been satirizing O’Keefe’s works, her burrowing bloom-by-bloom intensity.
Flowers 1 1970, Andy Warhol
I find it interesting that both Warhol and O’Keefe worked initially as commercial artists, and both succeeded in creating strong public images, O’Keefe garbed in white, squinting through her handsome wrinkles, Andy behind wraparound sunglasses, deadpan, crowned with a platinum wig. That they both also took up the challenge of flower painting makes sense; where lesser artists dismissed (or feared) a subject so hackneyed and so beautiful, these two managed to make it new.
“Flowers of Distinction” runs through January 8, 2006.