O’Keeffe and Stieglitz: Intimacy at a Distance

14SOLOMON-1-articleInline Deborah Solomon on Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz: Volume I, 1915-1933, in the NYT:

The first thing one notices about “My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz: Volume I, 1915-1933” is its elephantine bulk. Running to more than 800 extra-large, text-crammed pages, it inherently raises the question of whether O’Keeffe is a sturdy enough talent to support such heavy, reverential treatment. She was, to this viewer, an original painter, but the distilled lushness of her early scenes of flowers and skies eventually ossified, and her work became formulaic, one of the first brands in American art. She claimed to have found her inspiration in nature, but her paintings — with their radical simplification of form and near abstractness — perhaps owe more to the early experiments in close-up photography of Paul Strand, who was part of the Stieglitz circle and a close friend of hers.

But let’s just leave her art out of this for now. In “My Faraway One,” Sarah Greenough, a senior curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, has assembled some 650 letters into a volume that is basically a love story pitched at the highest romantic level. Which is not to say that O’Keeffe and Stieglitz were actually compatible. They were the sort of couple who seemed to experience their most genuine togetherness when they were separated by a safe distance of at least a few hundred miles. Astoundingly, some 5,000 letters survive. Most of them are housed at the Beinecke Library at Yale, where O’Keeffe deposited them on the condition that they remain sealed until 20 years after her death. (She died in 1986.)