July 13, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

The I, Science Culture Club goes to the Modern Couples exhibition at the Barbican Centre

Before the holidays, the I, Science Culture Club went to the Barbican Art Gallery to see the Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde exhibition.

The exhibition features roughly 40 couples of modern artists from the 20th century, ranging from painters, sculptors, photographers, designers and architects to poets, musicians and dancers. It showcases how intimate relationships between artists either influenced their individual work or resulted in powerful dialogues and collaborations. It displays how love can be supportive, queer or freeing but also messy, obsessive or infuriating. Most importantly, the exhibition gives equal visibility to women artists, some previously reduced to muses, others suppressed by their partner’s fame or ego, thereby challenging the idea of the avant-garde artist as a solitary male genius.

black and white photo of couple laughing in front of plane
Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova, from Sergei Eisenstein’s 1926 film The General Line. Photograph: Rodchenko and Stepanova Archive. Found on TheGuardian.com

Some of the bigger names include Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin, Lee Miller and Man Ray or Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera, but the majority of the exhibition displays artists that are lesser known, such as constructivists Aleksandr Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova or German costume designers Lavinia Schulz and Walter Holdt, making it a great opportunity to discover artists.

Each couple has their own display, where works of art can be seen alongside personal letters, photographs and information about the couple’s story. The whole exhibition is filled with anecdotes about the couples’ art, relationships and the times they lived in. To be exposed to so many intimate stories at once is rare and I found it both touching and eye-opening.

The exhibition is very ambitious, and there is a lot to go through, perhaps even a little too much. There is no space to pause and think, but at the same time, the overall message that comes across is so powerful that everyone will be able to take something away from it.

Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy, and the Avant-Garde is on at the Barbican Art Gallery from 10 October 2018 to 27 January 2019

Céleste Nilges is studying for a MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College London 

Banner image: Modern Couples, Youtube