It Takes a Pueblo: Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams

O'Keeffe and Adams

Top: Georgia O'Keeffe, Ranchos Church No.1, 1929, Oil on canvas, 18 3/4 x 24 inches, CR 664, Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida, © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Bottom: Ansel Adams, Saint Francis Church Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, c. 1929, Gelatin silver print, 13 5/16 x 17 9/16 inches, Collection Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, ©The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust.

December 30, 2008

I think of Ansel Adams as the Walt Whitman of American photography, creating "silent songs" about monumental landscapes. Georgia O'Keeffe, on the other hand, reminds me of Emily Dickinson. Of course, Dickinson hardly ever left the perimeter of Amherst, but it's not a geographic similarity they share, it's more a sensibility that goes beyond their solitary work. A Dickinson poem, or an O'Keeffe painting often presents the greatest reward to those who can see the deepest.

Natural Affinities, the exhibition of O'Keeffe and Adams' work currently up at American Art (thru January 4, 2009) is an ecstatic look at the work and lives two of the masters of the twentieth century. Adams captured the landscape in luminous black and white, yet in a voice that soars. O'Keeffe painted the world around her—sky, flower, skull—with an earthy palette that draws the viewer in. When both artists visions' overlapped, say in their take on the Saint Francis Church at Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, the result is staggering.

Both artists created these works in 1929, around the time of their first meeting. Theirs would be a lifelong friendship, with some breaks, and each would be propelled into greatness by Alfred Stieglitz, artistic visionary and O'Keeffe's husband. Taking a look at the Ranchos church, O'Keeffe's is solid, yet it floats: at times it even aspires to flesh. In Adams' view, the church becomes a monolith, solid and earth-bound. Looking at one and then the other creates a dialogue, about painting, photography, and the very nature of seeing things.

The exhibition is filled with such wonders, but it's closing January 4. Take a look and let me know what you see. And as an added feature download our audio companion to the exhibition from our American Art podcast series on iTunes.


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