In the pursuit of modernism


An exhibition celebrating the iconic work of American artist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986) and pioneering Australian artists Margaret Preston (1875–1963) and Grace Cossington Smith (1892–1984) opens at the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) from 11 March to 11 June 2017.

O’Keeffe, Preston, Cossington Smith: Making Modernismincludes 90 paintings, 30 by each artist, and considers the distinguished contribution these remarkable women artists made to international modernism across the breadth of their careers.

‘Making Modernism’ offers audiences a unique opportunity to see works by one of America’s most innovative painters, in parallel with two of Australia’s best known and beloved artists.

Never before seen in Australia, the group of Georgia O’Keeffe paintings includes Storm Cloud, Lake George 1923, The Black Iris 1926 and one of her most memorable skull and floral motif images, Ram’s Head, Blue Morning Glory 1938.

Georgia O’Keeffe, 1887-1986 / Ram’s Head, Blue Morning Glory 1938 / Gift of The Burnett Foundation / Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Preston and Cossington Smith, like O’Keeffe in America, have long been recognised for their central role in the development of modern art in Australia.

All three women were ambitious and steadfast in their pursuit of a modernism distinct from European traditions. Their works represent distinct modernist visions of the identity and culture of their respective nations, with landscape and a sense of place clearly a tremendous source of inspiration.

Coming of age in the 1920s and ‘30s, decades of great social and cultural transition, they connect with each other through their choice of subject, experimentation with light, colour and form and a commitment to presenting alternative ways of seeing the world.

Also united by a love of nature, O’Keeffe, Preston and Cossington Smith developed subjects from their immediate surroundings to create distinct interpretations of place. O’Keeffe synthesised the forms and lines of the New Mexico high desert to share her experience of its vast and ancient landscape, while Preston articulated the character of her local environment in her pursuit of a uniquely Australian aesthetic. Cossington Smith painted glowing and intimate landscapes based on views from her semi-rural home in Sydney’s outer suburbs.

The genre of still life was a further touchstone – flower painting in particular. Each artist transformed this traditional art form into a pictorial vehicle more relevant to the modern age.

The exhibition has been developed by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Heide Museum of Modern Art and QAGOMA in partnership with the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.

This project is made possible through support from the Terra Foundation for American Art. The exhibition is generously supported by the Art Gallery of New South Wales Society, the Gordon Darling Foundation and the Government of the United States.