Georgia Okeeffe






Enthralled by the barren landscape and expansive skies of the desert, Georgia O’Keefe would become chiefly known for paintings of flowers, rocks, shells, animal bones, and the quiet beauty of open skies and sun-drenched terrains. Yet, it is her paintings of New York city done in the 1920?s that have always captured my imagination and linger in memory.

The drama and excitement of the modern metropolis at that time in history was unmistakable, embodied in landmark skyscrapers like the American Radiator Building located at West 40th Street, in midtown Manhattan. Designed by Raymond Hood, the combined Gothic and modern styles in the design of the Radiator Building was massive, solid, and illustrious, an engineering feat of wonder erected to match the prosperity of the period.

Black brick on the frontage of the building (symbolizing coal) was prominently featured while other parts of the facade were covered in gold bricks (symbolizing fire). The entry was decorated with marble and black mirrors in a style reminiscent of an Ayn Rand dream. Ornamented and sculptured, it was an edifice of opulence, particularly after dark when the upper floors were illuminated with floodlights.

It was this vision of that building at night in the changing skyline of New York that Georgia O’Keeffe captured in her wonderfully theatrical interpretation, “Radiator Building at Night.” Painted from her window on the thirtieth floor of the Shelton Hotel (some scholars dispute that, claiming it was the 28th floor penthouse) at 49th and Lexington, that she shared with her husband, the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, she detailed flooded lights illuminating the sky at right, and at left, a bright red marquee ablaze with the name “Stieglitz” in its glow.

Georgia O’Keeffe painting of the Radiator in 1927 (the same year as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, tellingly) is remarkable for its color and for the depiction of the artificial light of the city night – the purple/blue tints of floodlights and the fluorescent whites of the office towers. There’s a touch of warm incandescence in windows here and there. The stylized smoky steam arising from the building at the right echoes the flipped curved cornices of the Radiator’s top floors. It’s pure theater.