Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde at the Barbican


“Now there was a time when they used to say, that behind every – great man, there had to be a – great woman”
Annie Lennox famously sang in Sisters are doin’ it for themselves. Modern Couples on view at the Barbican until 27th January 2019 is a remarkably rich exhibition that could just illustrate these lines. Exploring creative relationships across the full spectrum of media, the exhibition focuses on legendary duos stimulated by each other’s artistic vision and talent. Most importantly, the exhibition cleverly re-balances the roles of women in art history, demonstrating their huge impact on men artists’ careers, while also focusing on same-sex romances.

Jane Alison, Head of Visual Arts, Barbican, said: “It brings together many of the most exciting figures of the avant-garde period, while setting up fascinating juxtapositions and taking visitors on a journey of discovery. Its new take on modern art history, focusing on collaboration and mutual influence in intimate relationships, could not be timelier. The show offers visitors a deeply personal and revealing insight into the transformative impact artists’ had on each other. Ultimately it is an exhibition about modern art and modern love.”

Modern Couples deeply highlights these personal relationships, from mutual influence, life-long collaborations and sometimes destruction. Each room sheds light on the artists’ personal and creative encounters, bringing to life a particular moment in their work or highlighting a shared surge of creativity. Modern Couples features the work of painters, sculptors, photographers, architects, designers, writers, musicians and performers, shown alongside personal photographs, love letters, gifts and rare archival material.

Among the highlights are iconic duos such as: Federico García Lorca and Salvador Dalí, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson; Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera (a nod to the exceptional  V&A exhibition?); Dora Maar and Pablo Picasso; Lee Miller and Man Ray; Jean Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp; Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin; Varvara Stepanova and Alexander Rodchenko; Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West; Emilie Flöge and Gustav Klimt, Romaine Brooks and Natalie Clifford-Barney and Lavinia Schulz and Walter Holdt.

Lee Miller and Man Ray’s shared experiments in the darkroom and Edward Weston’s reciprocally inspirational relationships with both Margrethe Mather and Tina Modotti are some of the most significant rooms.

Literature also plays a strong part in Modern Couples. The exhibition gives the rare chance to see Virginia Woolf’s original manuscript of Orlando and explore her relationship with Vita Sackville-West.

Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-Garde is the must-see show in London now.





Images:  Tamara de Lempicka’s Les Deux Amies, 1923 (detail; full image below). Photograph: Association des Amis du Petit Palais, Geneve.
Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst with his sculpture, Capricorn, 1947 © John Kasnetsis.
Dorothea Tanning, Rapture, 1944, Private collection ©ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018.
Max Ernst with rocking horse, Paris ,1938, Max Ernst Museum Brühl des LVR, Stiftung Max Ernst