the United States in the 20th century through the career of an avant-garde painter


Western music against the backdrop of the ocher desert of New Mexico. It is in this wild country that the American painter Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) spent the second part of her life; there that she wrote the annotations of Georgia O’Keeffe, book in which more than a hundred of his paintings are reproduced (Penguin Books, 1977); there opens the documentary dedicated to him on France 5. “If I am trying today to talk about my paintings myself, it is because no one else knows how they were created”, explains the artist through the voice of Anita Pollitzer (1894-1975), a friend and fellow student, with whom she shares the same recognizable accent.

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Didier Ottinger, co-author and director with Sylvain Bergère of this documentary, knows the painter very well: he is the curator of his first Parisian retrospective at the Center Pompidou, until December 6. In practice after having achieved Magritte, the betrayal of images, in 2016, on the occasion of an exhibition already organized at the Center Pompidou, the two men offer much more than the life and work of the artist, an icon in his country but still little known in France: a look at the evolution of American company for six decades – which should appeal to a wider audience.

Also read: Article reserved for our subscribers Georgia O’Keeffe beyond fashions

To achieve this, the film relies in particular on numerous archival sequences, on an interview with the painter then in her nineties and on the incredible correspondence – more than 5,000 letters – maintained with the photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) , started long before they met, before he revealed her, that they loved each other and that he married her in 1924.

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Love and career are closely linked. Thus the comparison of the photos and the canvases makes it possible to visualize the influences of one on the other, before the young painter chooses her areas of interest on her own, moving from flowers with a strong erotic connotation to bones in the sand, from New York buildings to the anthropomorphic landscapes of New Mexico.

A more refined life

His journey offers in passing a magnificent testimony in images of New York from the years 1910-1920, of the Empire State Building, of the Ve Avenue, which houses at 291 the most avant-garde exhibition space of the time, or even the Shelton Hotel, where the couple will stay for a time on the thirtieth floor.

Very quickly, the young woman appears as avant-garde in her reflections as in her paintings: ” It’s funny, she says, women have always been treated here [aux Etats-Unis] like black people, and they don’t know it. ” Likewise when in 1929, near Taos in New Mexico, she attended the sacred dances of the Pueblo tribe: “I will never forget that first evening when I came into contact with the red man in Apache country (…). A real shock. “

Georgia O'Keeffe photographed by Myron Wood in 1980.

While the financial crisis shakes the balances, Georgia O’Keeffe will gradually abandon the urban and materialist civilization for a more refined life. As noted by the journalists who visit her at Ghost Ranch where she settles permanently after the death of her husband. With a laughing eye, the old woman shares her passion for “Painting, always painting” and nothing else, always with the same capacity for astonishment and sensuality.

Georgia O’Keeffe, American icon, documentary by Didier Ottinger and Sylvain Bergère, directed by Sylvain Bergère (Fr., 2021, 52 min). Broadcast on France 5.


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