A circle is a circle is a circle. The moon is round, and there is something about the circle and the moon that makes us feel complete. In their many paintings of circles and moons and and fullness, Georgia O’Keeffe and Arthur Dove may have overlapped.
On June 7, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., will explore the role of the influential American modernist painter Arthur Dove as the key figure in Georgia O’Keeffe’s development of abstraction as a means of artistic expression. Dove/O’Keeffe: Circles of Influence will feature 60 major oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, and pastels spanning 1910 to the early 1940s. Among the seminal works on view will be O’Keeffe’s Dark Abstraction (1924) and Jack-in-The Pulpit No. VI (1930), and Dove’s Moon (1935) and Fog Horns (1929). The Clark is the exclusive venue for this exhibition, which will be on view through September 7.
Although Dove and O’Keeffe’s approach to imagery ultimately diverged, their shared interest in capturing the ephemeral, fugitive traits of nature-the play of light on water, the transitions of the sun and moon, and the rustle of the wind through grass-was the basis for an abiding commitment to each other’s works and a profound aesthetic connection that lasted throughout their lifetimes.
“Georgia O’Keeffe has captured the imagination of art lovers around the world, not only by virtue of her incredible talent, but through her bohemian spirit as well,” said Clark director Michael Conforti. “The Clark is excited to look for the first time at O’Keeffe’s early modernist work along with the work of the extraordinary artist Arthur Dove, examining their shared influence on each other’s works.”
From the start of her career, O’Keeffe credited a reproduction of a Dove pastel as her introduction to modernism. Dove’s use of sensual, abstract forms to evoke the flowing rhythms and patterns of nature had already put him at the forefront of the American modernist movement by the time O’Keeffe entered the scene around 1916. Dove had been featured at the renowned photographer Alfred Stieglitz’s New York gallery “291” in 1912, and O’Keeffe’s work was first shown there in 1916. Works from this period, including Dove’s Abstraction, No. 3 (1910-11) and O’Keeffe’s No. 24-Special/No. 24 (1916-17), established the innovative aesthetic vision that characterized their early work.
During the 1920s and 1930s, critics began to take serious note of the two artists as major American modernist painters. In particular, the critics began to read the paintings from a Freudian point of view, pairing Dove and O’Keeffe as representative of the “masculine” and “feminine.” Unlike Dove, O’Keeffe reacted strongly against these psychoanalytic readings of her work, arguing for a more formal interpretation. Dove, always a strong and vocal supporter of O’Keeffe, ultimately used the Freudian interpretation in defense of O’Keeffe’s work.
O’Keeffe’s influence on Dove can be seen in the 1930s, when he turned to her early works, particularly her watercolors, such as Sunrise (1916), as means through which to renew his own work and vision. Although O’Keeffe had long abandoned the medium, Dove created a number of important works including Sunrise #1 (1936) during this period, when he found his inspiration in what he called O’Keeffe’s “burning watercolors.”
The paintings from the exhibition will be drawn from international public and private collections. The exhibition features works once owned by Alfred Stieglitz, O’Keeffe’s husband and Dove’s longtime friend, as well as works from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.