Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Adams v. O'Keeffe Deathmatch

Currently at SAAM (aka the Smithsonian American Art Museum aka that museum next to the Verizon Center aka my favorite midtown waystation whenever I'm meeting up with people) until the beginning of January is a dual exhibit of natural works by Ansel Adams and Georgia O'Keeffe, supposedly the first major exhibition showing their work side by side. It's a fantastic exhibit and there are too many highlights to count.

The real question is who wins the deathmatch? And I give the edge to Adams. It's never quite fair to pair painting with photography and in the 20th century photography has become the prime medium for depicting nature. But don't count O'Keeffe out so easily. When it comes to her bright blasts of color and those works that toe the line between abstraction and representation (and not just her flowers that look like . . . other things) she more than holds her own. And in one domain, desert landscapes, O'Keeffe dominates. Her depictions of the stone churches in those washes of brown and tan are stunning, and of course there are the bright bright white skulls. But take her out of the desert and Adams take charge. One particular high point is when Adams captures a wash of foam on water that looks as if nature has created a van Gogh. And, as lovely as O'Keeffe's mountains are, Adams' picture of a mountain perfectly reflected on the water is awe-inspiring.

This is the kind of blockbuster exhibit SAAM was meant for, and it doesn't disappoint.

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