The New York Art Scene

The art scene in New York City during the teens and the twenties was largely influenced by photographer Alfred Stieglitz and the exhibitions at his "291" studio (so named for its location at 291 Fifth Avenue). Opened in 1907, "291" became a haven for photographers Paul Strand and Edward Weston as well as painters Arthur Dove and Marsden Hartley. Stieglitz's distinct aesthetic views reflect an appreciation of clarity of form and the depiction of the mundane in America. For Stieglitz, "the strengths of photography were clarity, precision, the perfect illusion of reality, and graphic and abstract design. The counterparts to these qualities, in painting, would be painterly technique and nonobjective imagery: images that would reorder reality instead of reproducing it" (Robinson 64).

Alfred Stieglitz
Portrait by Paul Strand

Stieglitz wanted to create a distinctly American "thing" by capturing "American-ness" in art. Although Stieglitz exhibited European artists like Picasso and Matisse, he desired for American artists to break away from the old guard European school of painting. Declaring the 1913 Armory Show a "circus," Stieglitz sought to showcase American photographers and painters. According to Bram Dijkstra in The Hieroglyphics of a New Speech: Cubism, Stieglitz, and the Early Poetry of William Carlos Williams , "In opening "291" to the avant garde [Stieglitz] deliberately emphasized both the differences and the underlying similarities between painting and photography" (93). One cultural critic viewed Stieglitz as "a continuator in our time of the tradition launched by Emerson and Whitman and Louis Sullivan…these men also strove to create the tradition of the American thing. They tried to visualize the unique indigenous American person, and through multitudes of him, the honest creative America" (Orvell 204). Just as Whitman wanted to celebrate the everyday in American culture, the organic aesthetic of Stieglitz reveals a similar appreciation for the authenticity of experience found in the banality of American life. In 1925 Stieglitz showcased the Seven Americans: 159 Photographs and Things at the Anderson Galleries. The exhibit featured two photographers (Stieglitz and Paul Strand) and five artists (John Marin, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Charles Demuth and Georgia O'Keeffe).

Special No. 9
Special No. 9, Charcoal
Georgia O'Keeffe, 1915

Stieglitz first viewed O'Keeffe's work on January 1, 1916 when O'Keeffe's friend Anna Pollitzer showed him several charcoal drawings including Special No. 9 that O'Keeffe had mailed to Pollitzer. Stieglitz was so taken with what he saw that he declared, "At last, a woman on paper." Unbeknownest to O'Keeffe, Stieglitz exhibited her drawings in the "291" studio later on in May of 1916. Critics were confounded by O'Keeffe's pictures, sensing that she was conveying an innate female intuition. O'Keeffe's gender would continue to be an issue of contemplation amongst the New York critics in discussing her artwork.

City Night, 1926
City Night , 1926
Georgia O'Keeffe

O'Keeffe did not make New York her permanent home until 1917 where she and Stieglitz were married in 1924. O'Keeffe and Stieglitz quickly developed a mutually beneficial relationship that would last until his death in 1946. Their influence on each other's work is undeniable, especially when Stieglitz's photographs are juxtaposed to O'Keeffe's paintings as seen here with the images of the skyscrapers. Stieglitz began to create and market the image of O'Keeffe as the quintessential female painter by photographing O'Keeffe in front of her paintings. O'Keeffe, however, was soon to come into her own as she began to experiment with perspective and scale in her paintings of skyscrapers and flowers.

Stieglitz Photograph of City
From the Shelton, Looking West, 1933
Alfred Stieglitz
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