Stieglitz, With Georgia on His Mind


The face has the rawboned frankness of Gary Cooper, the hands curve softly and the body is unexpectedly lush. Viewed through the lens by her besotted lover and then husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, the painter Georgia O'Keeffe is a luminous, utterly mesmerizing presence.

A group of these intimate sepia-toned images, spanning 20 years, was first published in 1978. The 29 additional photos in the new version of "Georgia O'Keeffe: A Portrait by Alfred Stieglitz" (Metropolitan Museum of Art / Abrams, $60, 147 pages) offer intriguing variants on the original selection, though nothing could improve on them--or on O'Keeffe's wryly observant description of Stieglitz's working habits.

At first, he focuses on her eager young face and the eloquent language of her hands. In one image, her hands gesture mysteriously against the plain white collar of her dark dress; in another, they caress the large, pale surface of one of her atmospheric watercolors. Eventually, in tight close-up, O'Keeffe unself-consciously reveals her private parts. And finally--she's in her 40s now--we see her face again, crinkled and skeptical and beautifully wise.


The search of frazzled urbanites for serenity often leads to Asian sources. "East Meets West," by interior designer Kelly Hoppen (Rizzoli, $45, 160 pages), offers lessons in mixing textures, colors and styles to create a spare and tranquil ambience suited to Western living.

Scrumptious photographs lead the eye from indigenous elements of various Asian and Middle Eastern cultures to decorator tips. Tan and green chenille and devore velvet juxtaposed with plain hessian fabric evoke colors and patterns in an aerial view of a rice field in Nepal. Two ample marble spheres at the base of a mantelpiece translate the peaceful concentric circles of raked gravel in a Kyoto garden.

Inspiration can come from embroidered Indian slippers or the green and black coloring of lichen on a rock. "Balance, repetition and attention to detail" are the watchwords of Hoppen's design philosophy. Rather than advocate slavish re-creations of Asian interiors or a hunt for rare and exotic furnishings, she proposes a creative way of extracting the essence from the everyday world of large and small things.


A couple of millenniums ago, Chinese painters strived simply to copy what they saw. But by the 10th century AD--long before the West invented abstract art--they had a new goal: "sketching the idea" and letting viewers fill in the rest. Coming from a different tradition, most of us need coaching.

With patient guidance from six top scholar essayists and more than 300 photographs of paintings from far-flung collections, "Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting" (Yale University Press, $75, 402 pages) is the book to buy (or borrow) for total immersion in one of the world's great art traditions. Don't let the heft of this volume turn you off. Turn to almost any page and you'll be rewarded by insightful descriptions of what you're looking at.

Why is each of the court ladies in flowered headdresses and diaphanous dresses in Zhou Fang's Tang dynasty painting peering at a small flower or animal? Because all the delicate living things in this scene "share each other's loneliness." What is that Dr. Seuss-like shape in a landscape by Daoist monk Fang Congyi? It's a cliff, bursting upward to symbolize the belief that the world exists in a state of constant flux.


In the 1970s, Karen Witynski and Joe P. Carr found a bright blue market table hiding under a floral oilcloth at a market in Zacatecas, Mexico. Since then, the two antique dealers have rushed from airports to mercados to munch, sniff, listen and look for more goodies.

"Mexican Country Style" (Gibbs Smith, $39.95, 137 pages) offers a pioneering guide to indigenous furnishings and fixtures, from carved mesquite corral hinges to pine beds, cypress benches and rough-hewn bateas (dough bowls). Bright photographs and a clear, lively text illuminate the original use of each object and propose such contemporary adaptations as turning a bebedero (carved trough for livestock feed) into a flower planter.

The photos frequently show Mexican antiques in the well-appointed homes of the couple's clients, which may be useful from a decorating standpoint but does make one ponder the tremendous gulf--both economic and spiritual--between the original owners and the present ones.

* Cathy Curtis reviews art and photography books every four weeks. Next week: Book reviews by Times readers.

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