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CMA Thinker

What’s Your Style? Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern

By Stephanie Foster, Interpretive Planner, Public and Academic Engagement

Image courtesy Cleveland Museum of Art.

How do you express yourself? Whether you have a ring you wear every day, a favorite shirt, or you insist on wearing Birkenstocks even in a Cleveland winter, we all have a personal style that’s unique to us. The exhibition Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, on view through Sunday, March 3, offers visitors a view of how Georgia O’Keeffe’s style, life, and art were intimately connected.

Images courtesy Cleveland Museum of Art.

In addition to using her artwork to craft and control her persona as a modern artist, O’Keeffe also used her clothing, accessories, and living spaces. Early in her career, O’Keeffe’s wardrobe reflected the simplicity, starkness, and two-toned black-and-white palette of her paintings. When she moved to New Mexico in the 1940s, the vast blue skies and red rock cliffs influenced both her paintings and her attire, as comfortable and practical blue jeans became a staple. Late in her career, when she became famous, she preferred to be represented in photographs as austere and contemplative; her wardrobe of simple wrap dresses and finely tailored suits helped reinforce her stature as a modern icon.

Images courtesy Cleveland Museum of Art.

The interpretation team at the Cleveland Museum of Art thought it was important to provide an opportunity for our guests to think about how we, in 2019, relate to O’Keeffe and the emphasis she placed on her wardrobe as a form of expression. We also wanted to give visitors the opportunity to share their thoughts with others. To do so, we placed a response station at the end of the exhibition where visitors can explore O’Keeffe’s continuing celebrity status and reflect on their own personal styles.

Images courtesy Cleveland Museum of Art.

Because much of a visitor’s experience at a museum is listening to or reading what the museum has to say, this response station is an opportunity for the museum to listen to what our visitors have to say. The prompt “What’s Your Style?” offers a natural opportunity for reflection after experiencing O’Keeffe’s paintings and clothing as well as photographs of the artist in her living spaces and favorite places.

The interpretation team reviews all submitted responses and refreshes a display of them weekly. Since the exhibition opened on November 23, we have received an average of 200 response cards a week! I have been consistently impressed at the time, thought, and talent people have been putting into their answers. Reading them has quickly become a favorite part of my work week. While some visitors prefer to use words to express their personal style, others create detailed drawings of their signature wardrobe items.

Images courtesy Cleveland Museum of Art.

Through participating in this activity, we hope that visitors are able to make a connection between how they style themselves every day and the ways in which O’Keeffe presented herself and her artwork. One of my favorite things about seeing all of the visitor responses is the number of people who identify their styles as Georgia O’Keeffe-esque!

Images courtesy Cleveland Museum of Art.

Many people have observed that until they visited the exhibition, they didn’t realize they prefer to dress as O’Keeffe did — simply, without ornamentation, and with a restrained palette.

Image courtesy Caroline Guscott for Cleveland Museum of Art.
Image courtesy Stephanie Foster, Interpretive Planner, Public and Academic Engagement

When I sat down to submit my own response, I really had to do some hard thinking about my own personal style. I decided that no matter what I’m wearing, I always feel the most confident wearing some bright red lipstick.

So, what’s your style? Come visit Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, and add your voice to the conversation!

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