Carr, O'Keefe, Kahlo: places of their own.
CARR, O'KEEFE, KAHLO: PLACES OF THEIR OWN
SHARYN ROHLFSEN UDALL
YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2000
REVIEWED BY CY-THEA SAND
Recently, artist Judy Chicago and art historian Edward Lucie-Smith observed that gender continues to determine how works of art are received and contextualized (Women and Art: Contested Territory, 1999). In this same work, Chicago challenged the entrenched criteria of mainstream art that undermines the artistic ambitions of young women. Sharon Udall's Places of Their Own is an important and necessary antidote to what Chicago calls the systemic erasure of women's aesthetic heritage.
A stunningly beautiful book, Places of Their Own chronicles the work of three modernist women who shared a passionate commitment to artistic practice. Udall contrasts and compares Emily Carr, Georgia O'Keefe and Frida Kahlo's themes and styles in lucid prose that will appeal to both lay and scholarly readers. Her text is accompanied by powerful images such as Carr's Forest (1940) and Cedar Sanctuary (1942); O'Keefe's Maple and Cedar, Lake George [Trees in Autumn] (1920) and Kahlo's Self-Portrait with Loose Hair (1947).
Udall's study constitutes the catalogue of an exhibit organized by the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. It opens in Kleinberg, Ontario in April 2001 and travels in 2002 to the Santa Fe Museum of Fine Arts, the National Museum of Women in Art, Washington, D.C. and the Vancouver Art Gallery. Places of Their Own is a `must read' for those who will view the exhibit. Readers who won't be able to see it could implore their local library to order the book.
Carr, O'Keefe and Kahlo had similar responses to issues of identity, place and indigenous cultures. This makes Udall's comparative study necessary and satisfying. Udall explains that "all three artists independently explored nature as a geography of the unconscious [through which] they renewed the psychological concept of landscape as female, finding and expressing a personal rootedness in that metaphor." Some readers may balk at the essentialist notions that inform Udall's study. But I think her thesis is balanced by her exploration of the self as pluralist.
In May 2000, one of Emily Carr's early paintings was sold for over $1 million, the highest price ever paid for the work of a female artist in Canada. Udall is concerned that the aesthetic influence of artists like Kahlo, Carr and O'Keefe risks being undermined by such commercialization. However, a new generation of artists is bound to be nurtured by the visions of the trio that Udall so competently portrays.