While Georgia O’Keefe has been widely recognized
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While Georgia O’Keefe has been widely recognized as one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century, few have acknowledged the contributions of her younger sister Ida to the modern art world. The art world of the early twentieth century was difficult to break into, particularly for women artists. And while Georgia had connections through her famous photographer husband, Alfred Stieglitz, Ida was left to fend for herself. Stieglitz showed an interest in Ida O’Keefe that went beyond professional admiration and his advances further strained an already tense relationship between the sisters.
Sadly, despite her considerable talent, Ida’s paintings never received much recognition in her lifetime. She made ends meet by taking on teaching jobs, always finding time to paint on the side. Despite never attaining the level of fame reached by Georgia, Ida was an accomplished woman in her own right. She graduated from the esteemed Columbia University in 1932 and even wrote and published a book on Native American culture in 1934.
The artistic interests of Georgia and Ida were just as different as their lives. While Georgia found fame through her brightly colored landscape, building and nature paintings, Ida favored a more abstract approach. She found inspiration in experimenting with new and increasingly daring compositions in her paintings, increasingly featuring a compositional system called “dynamic symmetry” in her work. Dynamic symmetry is a system invented by artist Jay Hambridge that defines compositional rules mathematically for visual art forms like painting and photography through the use of dynamic rectangles. The technique was cutting edge at the time and reflected Ida’s interest in visual experimentation. The color palette used by Ida was also drastically different from her sisters. While Georgia O’Keefe used vivid and exaggerated colors, Ida preferred a bleaker, more subdued palette.
Fortunately for Ida, she has an ally in the twentieth century art world and has finally begun to be recognized to the visionary that she was. Sue Canterbury, associate curator of American art at the Dallas Museum of Art, recently organized an event commemorating Ida O’Keefe’s artwork. The exhibit, fittingly named “Ida O’Keeffe: Escaping Georgia’s Shadow” featured over forty paintings, drawings and prints by Ida previously forgotten by art historians. The most famous paintings come from a series of seven paintings of lighthouses, six of which Canterbury was able to recover in time for the exhibition. This feat is especially impressive considering the fact that most of Ida’s works were part of private collections and accordingly, were extremely difficult to track down. These difficulties were only exacerbated by Ida’s eccentric tendency to alter titles and dates on paintings seemingly without reason.
Fortunately, Canterbury was not easily discouraged and amassed enough paintings for a strong showing. Ida’s work rarely saw the exhibition floor in her own lifetime and her paintings were only shown once in the same show as her famous sister Georgia’s. Thanks to the hard work of Sue Canterbury, Ida O’Keefe’s work has finally been recognized by a new generation of art lovers. Perhaps one day Ida’s paintings will reach the fame she sought in her lifetime.