NARRATOR: O’Keeffe’s abstractions from the early 1920s often have a fragile, petal-like quality. This one, Flower Abstraction, literally improvises on a floral form. The closely cropped motif seems to extend beyond its frame, as if without measurable boundaries. As a result, the composition suggests the immensity of nature.
O’Keeffe always insisted that her work had a broad range of references. But at times, people have only seen the bodily aspects of the work. As you perhaps heard in the gallery of photographs, at the beginning of her career, critics often argued that her paintings pictured her subconscious knowledge of her body—as if she had captured the essence of womanhood.
O’Keeffe found these interpretations much too simplistic. She became convinced that abstract paintings, like this one, were especially open to overly sexualized-interpretation. Partly for that reason, she began making fewer of them. But abstraction always remained an important means of processing experiences and emotions that she could not express verbally—you’ll see this as you continue through the exhibition. And the abstract work she did make tended to be among her largest, most ambitious canvases.
If you’d like to hear one of the reviews that O’Keeffe found so objectionable, please press the PLAY button.