Shortly after the industrial revolution, modernist art become a revolution of its own, challenging the convention that art should realistically depict our world. While this movement is most commonly associated with European artists, Queensland Art Gallery’s latest exhibition O’Keeffe, Preston, Cossington Smith: Making Modernism draws particular attention to the development of modernism here in Australia.
Making Modernism presents three female artists who never met, yet were all preoccupied with how they could represent the world around them using light, colour and form. Georgia O’Keeffe is widely considered to be one of America’s most important artists of the 20th century and showing her works alongside Australian artists Margaret Preston and Grace Cossington Smith in this exhibition starts an interesting conversation about the development of modernism.
Created in collaboration with the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, this exhibition presents the largest display of O’Keeffe’s works to visit Australia. “We wanted to bring O’Keeffe to Australia not just to put on O’Keeffe banner on an exhibition, but to explore Australian modernism in a global context,” says Jason Smith, one of the exhibition’s five curators.
The works of each artist are displayed in chronological order, allowing visitors to follow the artist’s journey in a very linear way. When viewing the works of Preston and Cossington Smith, it’s hard not to feel a pang of national pride. Preston’s work features natives including gum blossoms, while many of Cossington Smith’s vibrant pieces show the urbanisation of Sydney, capturing moments including the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
These works lead you towards O’Keeffe’s part of the exhibition. Her time spent in New Mexico heavily influenced her work and her representations of this landscape underpin this part of the exhibition. Like Preston, she also had a strong interest in painting flowers, once remarking: “When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.”
Years on from when these artists were practicing, this exhibition does just that – it makes you stop to appreciate places, objects and moments that are so easily overlooked.
Throughout the exhibition there will be a number of events, including screenings of the 1977 documentary Georgia O’Keeffe, which is the only film that O’Keeffe allowed to be made of her. Local artist Judith Sinnamon will also lead workshops on still life painting.
March 11 to 11 May
Queensland Art Gallery
Image: Margaret Preston, The Monstera deliciosa, 1934, © Margaret Rose Preston Estate