Modern Couples

Visited the Barbican for the first time for Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde.

While Waldemar Januszczak loved it, and I love what he said about it:

However, I can’t get as excited as he was. For me, there were too many artists to explore, the ‘booths’ were too small, and although it wasn’t busy, you still felt that there wasn’t enough room to move around the space.

Although some of the pairings didn’t do much for me, there were some moments that were a joy.

The first room, in particular, with Rodin and Camille Claudel, matched with Marcel Duchamp and Maria Martins, was spectacular and, perhaps, that is why it seemed a little flat after that!

The letters between Rodin and Claudel were both erotic (as Waldemar quoted, “I go to bed naked every night, to make me think you’re here,” she writes to him in one of the exhibition’s many startling letters. “I kiss your hands, my sweetheart — next to you my soul can exist,” he replies.“) but also sweet,  like when Camille asks Rodin to buy her a swimsuit ready for her visit to him.

These two sculptures demonstrate the feelings between the two of them, particularly Claudel’s living work. She knew every inch of him in order to produce such a loving portrait.

In turn, his piece, I am Beautiful is testament to the passion the two inspired in each other.

“I am Beautiful” Auguste Rodin (1840 -1917), Courtesy of Musée Rodin, Paris

For Duchamp and Martins, this site is a excellent one to explore:

Quadro a Quadro: Maria Martins

This was memorizing, full stop!

Her writings have the same vicious lust about them:

For a long time even after my death / For a long time after your death /

I want to torture you / I want the thought of me like a flaming serpent /

to coil around you body without burning you /

I want to see you lost, asphyxiated, wandering in the mist…

To link nicely with this, another ‘fragmented’ woman, but one with humour was interesting.

Lee Miller and her relationships with both Man Ray and Roland Penrose were represented. The plaster cast Man Ray made of her was here along with a photograph of Miller tweaking her own nipple! Who says art has to be stuffy and serious!!

Keeping with the theme of nudity, I, too, will have to make comment on Tamara de Lempicka’s Les Deux Amie.

This wall-sized canvas was stunning! The light that emanates from the reclining figure tells you that these two have enjoyed a night in and, as Waldemar points out, they weren’t watching telly! Loved the fact that the curtain has been pulled away and tied back, revealing a theatrical element to this scene.  

Another pairing where there was a standout piece was with Marianna von Werefkin and Alexej von Jawlensky.  Without question, it was Marianna’s work that stood out and it was this, called Factory City .  The rough painting style demonstrated why Marianna was wrong to stop painting early on in her career in order to support her partner, von Jawlensky.  The way in which industrialisation is impacting on this once picturesque city,  is startling.  The tall chimney is in full detail, while the smaller ones are simple brushstrokes.  It should be noted that the chimney is the same height at the cathedral spire and the billowing smoke is repeated within the cloud formations.  The vibrancy of the paintwork was wonderful and it was worth the entrance fee all by itself! 

Finally, the room I wanted to see most of all was the one containing Leonora Carrington and Max Ernst.  

and I was not disappointed! 

This Portrait of Max Ernst was painted in 1939 when the two were at their home in Saint-Martin d’Ardèche, paid for by Leonora’s mother. This was an artistic retreat for the couple, however, when Ernst was arrested as an enemy alien, it was the scene of Leonora’s breakdown. 

After Leonora left, Max returned and collected many of their works, including this one.  It was smaller than I originally imagined.  The icy wasteland that Max inhabits along with Leonora’s animal familiar is beautifully lit and it is this element that seems to flow through the works that I found most interesting.  

This exhibition needs a full day as there is so much to take in.  

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