Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and The Avant Garde at Barbican, London

Featuring the biggest names in Modern Art, a new exhibition at the Barbican-  Modern Couples explores creative relationships, across painting, sculpture, photography, design and literature.

Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde showcases the creative output of over 40 artist couples active in the first half of the 20th century. Drawing on loans from private and public collections worldwide, this major interdisciplinary show 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 legendary duos such as: Jean Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp; Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin; Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson; Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera; Dora Maar and Pablo Picasso; Lee Miller and Man Ray; Varvara Stepanova and Alexander Rodchenko; Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West; as well as pairings such as Emilie Flöge and Gustav Klimt, Federico García Lorca and Salvador Dalí, Romaine Brooks and Natalie Clifford-Barney and Lavinia Schulz and Walter Holdt, Claude Cahun and Marcelle Moore,  Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, and Nancy Cunard and Henry Crowder, Maria Martins and Marcel Duchamp.

The exhibition seeks to define and explore the relationship between art, society and politics. By focusing on intimate relationships in all their forms – obsessional, conventional, mythic, platonic, fleeting, life-long – it also reveals the way in which creative individuals came together, transgressing the constraints of their time, reshaping art, redefining gender stereotypes and forging news ways of living and loving. Importantly, the exhibition also challenges the idea that the history of art was a singular line of solitary, predominantly male geniuses.

A great example is Cahun’s and Moore’s lifelong relationship. They were already lovers before Cahun’s father married Moore’s mother, making them stepsisters. They created art collaboratively from the 1920s onwards, most strikingly in the form of photos of Cahun, an ambiguously gendered, compelling and strange iconic figure. The couple resisted convention even to the point of death, arranging to be buried together under a headstone marked with two stars of David. Cahun was Jewish but unreligious while Moore wasn’t Jewish at all. It was the Fifties and the gesture was of solidarity with those oppressed by the Nazis in the last two decades. 

The show’s catalogue talks of desire linked to revolution. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were married for 30 years. They were unfaithful to each other, but the Communist ideal they shared and the aim that stemmed from it to create art not for a cultured elite but for the people, is the important factor. They were ideological collaborators.  

Another fascinating insight is found in the display of Nancy Cunard and Henry Crowder’s relationship. Cunard inherited a fortune from her father Sir Bache Cunard, an heir to the Cunard Line shipping businesses. Crowder was a jazz pianist. He was African-American and with his moral support, as well as active engagement as musician and writer, Cunard used culture to fight racism and colonialism. Their affair lasted seven years. After Crowder’s death in 1955 Cunard wrote that it was really him that inspired her sense of art’s purpose. Her own death 10 years later, was terrible: ravaged by alcoholism, weighing only four stone, mad and desolate, she died in the Hôpital Cochin, in Paris, which featured in the essay How the Poor Die by  George Orwell . In the 1920s and 1930s, though, she was a magnificent cultural leader and class warrior. Poet, collector and publisher, she launched the career of Samuel Beckett by bringing out his first book of poetry, Whoroscope. Crowder set the type and designed the cover. Cunard encouraged him to put poetry by black writers to music. In 1934 she published her influential book, Negro Anthology, documenting black culture.

Modern Couples really makes a case for itself with its representation of Cunard’s and Crowder’s joint story, by showing how each was a very great artist indeed in the sense we’re now getting used to, where many things can count as art.

Building of the week: Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Art Nouveau masterpiece - The Glasgow School of Art

Due to the sad news today we are posting about Charles Rennie Mackintosh's beautiful design for the Glasgow School of Art as our building of the week.

Glasgow School of Art, situated on a steep hill leading down to Sauchiehall Street, is one of the most distinctive Art Nouveau buildings in Glasgow, displaying a combination of decorative styles influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century. 

The opening ceremony of the completed Glasgow School of Art took place on 15th December 1909, performed by Sir James Fleming (left), chairman of the Board of Governors. Sir James had been a pupil of the school a few years after it had been founded in 1840.  At the ceremony Sir John Stirling Maxwell moved a vote of thanks to the architect, Mr Mackintosh, whom he said "had the real faculty of being able to adapt a building for the purpose for which it was really intended". He went on to say that the Glasgow School of Art "was a conspicuous success of that kind".  Mackintosh acknowledged the compliment and on behalf of the contractors presented Sir James Fleming with a jewelled silver casket containing a decorative signed scroll.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh's silverware was influenced by the work of the 'Wiener Werkstätte', designers and artisans of the Vienna Secession of which he was an honorary member. 

Charles Rennie Mackintosh had submitted his designs for the competition in 1896 and was successful in becoming the winning entrant when the result was announced in early 1897. Funding limitatations meant that the building was erected in stages between 1897 and 1909. 
Glasgow School of Art still demonstrates a freshness of style and presents a fascinating insight into turn of the century modernism.

Founded in 1845 as the Glasgow Government School of Design, it changed its name to The Glasgow School of Art in 1853. It was first located at 12 Ingram Street and moved to the McLellan Galleries in 1869. In 1897, work began on a new building to house the school on Renfrew Street. The building was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, chosen for the commission by the school's director, Francis Newbery, who oversaw a period of expansion and fast-growing reputation. The first half of the building was completed in 1899 and the second half in 1909.

Mackintosh lived most of his life in the city of Glasgow. Located on the banks of the River Clyde, during the Industrial Revolution, the city had one of the greatest production centres of heavy engineering and shipbuilding in the world. As the city grew and prospered, a faster response to the high demand for consumer goods and arts was necessary. Industrialized, mass-produced items started to gain popularity. Along with the Industrial Revolution, Asian style and emerging modernist ideas also influenced Mackintosh's designs. When the Japanese isolationist regime softened, they opened themselves to globalisation resulting in notable Japanese influence around the world. Glasgow's link with the eastern country became particularly close with shipyards building at the River Clyde being exposed to Japanese navy and training engineers. Japanese design became more accessible and gained great popularity. In fact, it became so popular and so incessantly appropriated and reproduced by Western artists, that the Western World's fascination and preoccupation with Japanese art gave rise to the new term, Japonism or Japonisme.

The school has produced most of Scotland's leading contemporary artists including, since 2005, 30% of Turner Prize nominees and four recent Turner Prize winners: Simon Starling in 2005, Richard Wright in 2009, Martin Boyce in 2011 and Duncan Campbell in 2014. The School of Architecture is highly rated by the architecture profession[5] and the School of Design has been described by Design Week as "leaders in design education"



artschool (1).jpg