Modern Couples: Art Intimacy and the Avant-garde

Modern Couples: Art Intimacy and the Avant-garde


Barbican_Modern Couples
A. Rodchenko and V. Stepanova descending from the airplane, (for the film The General Line by Sergei Eisenstein), 1926, Courtesy Rodchenko and Stepanova archives, Moscow

As the notion of a ‘couple’ evolves with society’s changing approach to marriage, partnerships, family, parenthood and gender, Barbican Art Gallery presents Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde: the first interdisciplinary exhibition to explore the creative output resulting from the exclusive or polyamorous relationships between artist couples in the first half of the 20th Century.

Including the work of painters, sculptors, photographers, architects, designers, poets, writers, musicians, dancers and performers, Modern Couples questions the history of modern art as one largely defined by solitary genius. The exhibition also reveals how creative individuals came together to variously transgress the constraints of their time, reshaping art, redefining gender stereotypes and forging new ways of living. The intimate relationship in all its various forms – obsessional, conventional, mythic, fleeting, life-long – is ultimately revealed to be a playground for experimentation, creation, and subversion of the status quo.

Featuring around 40 principal artist couples, with exhibits drawn from public and private collections in Europe, North America and Russia, Modern Couples offers visitors a rich exploration of artworks, to be seen alongside correspondence and photographic documentation, revealing both the couples’ intimate spheres and the changing behaviours and ideas of these modern age protagonists.The exhibition also highlights the work of legendary couples, such as Dora Maar and Pablo Picasso, Lee Miller and Man Ray, Varvara Stepanova and Alexander Rodchenko, Lucia Moholy and László Moholy-Nagy, Gabriele Münter and Wassily Kandinsky, Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Jean Arp, Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, Eileen Gray and Jean Badovici, Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, Vanessa Bell, Roger Fry and Duncan Grant, Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West,Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais; alongside less well known partnerships such as those between Emilie Flöge and Gustav Klimt, Romaine Brooks and Natalie Clifford-Barney, Lavinia Schulz and Walter Holdt, and Mary Reynolds and Marcel Duchamp, amongst others.

The exhibition is a partnership collaboration with Centre Pompidou-Metz, who initiated the exhibition; and is curated by Jane Alison, Head of Visual Arts, Barbican; Emma Lavigne, Director Centre Pompidou-Metz; Cloé Pitiot, Design Curator, Pompidou Paris and Elia Biezunski, Associate Curator, Centre Pompidou-Metz.

(Photo: A. Rodchenko and V. Stepanova descending from the airplane, (for the film The General Line by Sergei Eisenstein), 1926, Courtesy Rodchenko and Stepanova archives, Moscow)

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