Radiator Building is O’Keeffe’s grandest statement on New York City. She depicted the skyscraper, located in Midtown Manhattan, lit from within and without by a variety of electric light. Round streetlamps and glowing rectangular windows form an abstract pattern on the surface of the painting, while a diagonal beam from a spotlight adds a sense of movement. O’Keeffe’s low point of view and central placement of the building provides a sense of awe, demonstrating the skyscraper’s role as a symbol of modern America in the 1920s.
O’Keeffe included Alfred Stieglitz’s name in neon at the upper left, transforming the painting into a symbolic portrait similar to Charles Demuth’s Calla Lilies (Bert Savoy). Although Stieglitz and O’Keeffe preferred nature to the city, their New York apartment was on an upper floor of a high-rise building, as was 291. The painting inextricably associates the couple with the bright lights and architecture of the urban environment.
Her depiction of the Radiator Building in 1927, entitled Radiator Building – Night, New York is a haunting study of the magnificent building on West 40th Street, in midtown Manhattan which was completed 3 years earlier in 1924. The painting depicts a night scene of the building in which the illuminated windows shimmer against the dark of the building and the darkness of the night. To the right of the building we see steam and smoke slowly rising upwards from some ventilation system whilst in the left hand background searchlights scan the night sky and a red neon sign glows in the left background.
This type of painting by Georgia O’Keefe led her to be connected with an informal group of American artists who were inspired by the size and scale of modern American structures, such as bridges and skyscrapers. They were known as Precisionists or Immaculates and it was during the 1920s and into the early 1930’s that Precisionism blossomed. Sometimes it was referred to as Cubist-Realism.