Annie Leibovitz's photo for Pilgrimage of O'Keeffe's red "anthill"

Annie Leibovitz Turns Into Sherrie Levine?

Annie Leibovitz was the recipient of a “woman artist of distinction” honorific bestowed on her at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum  in Santa Fe several years ago. Leibovitz has been back in the news recently discussing her new work (a book, and show at the Smithsonian), of person-less portraits, Pilgrimage. Preceding PBS NewsHour coverage on Leibovitz was this lengthy report from last November in the Guardian which remarks on Leibovitz, saying this:

 I was being given an award at the Georgia O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and they kindly offered to take me to Ghost Ranch and to her house in Abiquiú, up on a hill overlooking the valley. So I went, and as I walked into her studio I started to cry. Something just hit me about the way she lived. Her frugality – all of her linens were frayed – is a reminder that we don’t need much. She had a simple life: she worked every day, grew a vegetable garden and ate well, walking on this land that she was so drawn to. She was the real thing.

I was lucky. The museum’s curator, Barbara Buhler Lynes, showed me around. She had written a book about where O’Keeffe painted. There’s a red hill in some of the paintings that looks like a mountain; in reality, it is only about 12ft high, almost an anthill. What’s remarkable about the house is that it’s pretty much been left the way she had it when she was alive. The pastels that O’Keeffe made herself are in the museum. Seeing them, you really have the sense that she held and used them. They are the colours of New Mexico: the reds are the sand in the hill, the blues are the sky.

A 12-foot “anthill”? Okay.

“Love” is another favorite verb of Leibovitz’s, as her Jeffrey Brown interview reveals. She loves Lincoln (Abraham) and the Lincoln Memorial. She loves that smartphones let everybody take snaps all the time, or what we used to call snaps. She loves her portrait work. And the portraits, without people, well, she loves those too, even those she says they are not like her portrait work at all, because in her portrait work, she never comes in “close.”

My biggest objection to coverage of this sort is why only let Annie Leibovitz talk about Annie Leibovitz?

Georgia O'Keeffe's door

Could it be… a control issue?

O’Keeffe was shrewd and very much in control. There is a state-of-the-art phonograph and stereo equipment, with a sign on it saying: “Do not touch volume.” I thought one of the curators had done that, but apparently it was O’Keeffe.



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  1. This is a really great article and I know my readers will be interested in it. The arts culture in New Mexico, especially Santa Fe and Taos, are so strong and the populace is divided if it’s growing appeal to the outside is a good thing or a bad thing. Either way, I’ll direct them here to see for themselves what you have to say. I’ve posted it at my blog:

    • Ellen Berkovitch says:

      Thanks so much. Think it’s interesting that Annie Leibovitz did the patio door and the red hills, and that many national and international media outlets starting with the Guardian picked up on it. Contemporary New Mexico, handholding history.