Edward Burtynsky and Georgia O’Keeffe in London
Yesterday I visited London for 1) a work trip to a library; 2) a visit to the Flowers Gallery in Hoxton to see the exhibition of recent photography by Edward Burtynsky; and 3) a visit to Tate Modern, to see the new Switch House and to visit the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition. Here are my thoughts on the day, and the intriguing juxtapositions I felt.
After a pitstop at Senate House to drop off a couple of books, I headed to Hoxton to visit the Burtynsky exhibition at the Flowers Gallery. (Link to guardian interview and coverage here)
The plan was then to visit Tate Modern, which I hadn’t visited for a few years – and I’d in fact forgotten that the O’Keeffe exhibition was on at all: serendipity!
(Link to guardian review of exhibition here)
The Burtynsky exhibition was really excellent, though I have a few observations. There was no entry charge: classic gallery setup, you had to ring the buzzer to be let in, and were promptly rewarded with the gallery press release, and the price list for the photographs on display! The largest size for the recent Salt Pans series (an imposing 58 x 78 inches) were £42,000…
The Salt Pans prints were really very imposing, and were excellently printed and displayed. Lighting was both subdued and luminous, bringing out the saturation and painterly luminosity of the images really well. I bought both books on sale, and at the time wrote a note that I felt that the images on display in the gallery were more luminous than those in the books; having got the books home, the printing quality is excellent, so that tells you how well the recent images were displayed in the gallery.
Upstairs were a selection of previous images from the Essential Elements book. Some of these were really excellent (the cover image in particular), but I felt that here the printing quality was slightly less impressive. The Houston skyline image wasn’t as sharp in the print as it is in the book, for instance. Not sure what the problem was here.
Anyway, altogether an excellent visit. There were also selling limited edition books of each, including a roughly A4 size print (I think there was a choice of 3 prints to choose from). These books were over £200 each, but might be a good investment for someone with deeper pockets than me.
On to bankside and Tate Modern. For anyone who hasn’t been, this is a must-visit in London. It’s free (of course) and there are amazing things to see and explore, including the building itself, though the exhibitions are quite pricey (up to about £18, for the O’Keeffe). Photography-wise, Tate Modern’s permanent collection is full of interest, including examples of William Egglestone, and series of typologies by Bernd and Hilla Becher. I was then delighted to remind myself that the O’Keeffe exhibition was on, and was really impressed and struck by the juxtapositions with photography (they had quite a number of prints on show by Stieglitz, Strand, and Adams, including very famous works (O’Keeffe and Orville Cox; Moonlight over Hernandez – neither of which, I think, are included in the exhibition monograph, presumably because of image rights restrictions). For those in the know about 20th century landscape photography this was a real treat, especially as most visitors sped past the monochrome photographs, wowed by the saturated colour of the paintings. This was a missed opportunity for some, especially as I felt that the juxtapositions really spelled out a sense that the O’Keeffe work was one abstraction or colour removed from the contemporary landscape photographers’ work. What this says about O’Keeffe as a painter is open to debate (“a tension between observation and abstraction”, as the Guardian review puts it), but the exhibition at least strove to make this connection throughout, and it was a great strength.
When seen in juxtaposition with my earlier absorption into Burtynsky’s ‘canvases’, obvious parallelisms struck me (and whether Burtynsky felt O’Keeffe’s influence in any way is irrelevant to my point). I felt an affinity between the best photographs there and O’Keeffe’s most luminous and cardinal work (for instance, ‘Red and Orange Streak’), in their shared interest in the opposition between saturated colour and muted almost monochrome tones, and in their gestures towards abstraction. In both cases, I felt that both Burtynsky and O’Keeffe were at their best the closer to abstraction their works became, while maintaining a semblance of reality.
Burtynsky at the Flowers Gallery, Kingsland Road, runs until 29th October.
O’Keeffe at Tate Modern is on until 30th October. See them together!
On my way around I also took a few iPhone shots. Here are the best of the bunch.