Manhattan in Black and White and Color
November 24, 2008
In a recent post I took a look at Arnold Ronnebeck's etching of Wall Street, made in 1925 when the native German artist was fairly new to Manhattan. He became a part of the circle of artists that formed around photographer Alfred Stieglitz, whose 291 Gallery on lower Fifth Avenue featured photographers Paul Strand and Ansel Adams, and painters Marsden Hartley, and Georgia O'Keeffe, among others. Ronnebeck's vision of New York City made me look again at one of the O'Keeffe paintings in SAAM's collection.
O'Keeffe's Manhattan was created for an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1932. If the flowers don’t seem like typical O’Keeffe, they’re not: she based them on paper and cloth decorative flowers created by Hispanic women in New Mexico. What we get is kind of a New York/New Mexico mash-up. I feel like I've wandered into a parade with paper flowers tossed out of high windows.
There's something uncanny in the vision of both artists. For both Ronnebeck and O'Keeffe, the city is defined by angles. In the Ronnebeck work, you feel dwarfed by the buildings; in O'Keeffe's the kaleidoscopic colors and tossed flowers produce a more positive feeling. O'Keeffe was clearly influenced by the light and the landscape of the Southwest. Ronnebeck, too, would find himself leaving Manhattan and moving west. But when he created the etching he titled Wall Street, he was living in the urban jungle, complete with its own distinctive form of wildlife, most notably bulls and bears.
Our exhibition Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams: Natural Affinities is on view in our galleries until January 4, 2009.
- Georgia O'Keeffe, Paul Strand, Ansel Adams, Arnold Ronnebeck, Marsden Hartley,
Alfred Stieglitz, American Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum
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