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Art History of full of amazing artist couples. Let's look at a handful of talented individuals who joined forces either for a lifelong collaboration or a finite but fruitful romance: Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, Merce Cunningham and John Cage, Lee Miller and Man Ray, Josef and Anni Albers, Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence, and Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.

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I am not a sentimental person, and this is not a sentimental video about the great power of love between artists.  Not that it doesn't exist or hasn't historically, it's just that most of the time, these biographical details just aren't that important to a discussion of the art itself, but sometimes there are good reasons to talk about an artist's romantic partnerships, and today we're gonna discuss a few moments in art history when artists have come together, either to continue creating their good work side by side, supporting each other in interesting ways, or to form a deep and sustaining collaboration that yields work that never would have been possible if either had worked separately.  

A clear case of the latter is Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, the pseudonyms of Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe.  Lifelong partners who met as teenagers and became stepsisters when Schwob's dad married Malherbe's mom.  The two adopted their gender neutral names around 1917 and used them professionally.  Moore was an illustrator and designer, and Cahun a poet, essayist, and photographer associated with the French surrealist movement. 

Cahun made numerous photographic self-portraits throughout the 20s and 30s, taking on a wide variety of personas and using double exposure, inversion, and superimposition to create transfixing images that stretch and subvert the notion of fixed identity.  There's ample evidence Moore helped create these images.  Cahun referred to Moore as (?~1:26), or "the other me" and they officially collaborated on photo montages that accompany Cahun's 1930 essay "Disavowels".  Cahun, the writer, was represented by lips, and Moore, the artist, by the eye. 

The onset of World War II made them flee Paris for the isle of Jersey, which quickly fell under German occupation.  They were activists against the war and were arrested and sentenced to death in 1944, but were spared by the liberation in 1945.  Much of their art and property were destroyed.  Cahun's health suffered after their imprisonment, and she died in 1954.  The bright news is that their work has been the focus of more scholarship and exhibitions since the 1990s and the long-overlooked pair is finally getting the attention their work deserves.

Our next love story also comes out of surrealism and that's the one Lee Miller and Man Ray.  The tale that is often attached to these two is that of the artist and his muse, and Miller was muse to Ray, but she wasn't only a muse.  Miller was a fashion model in New York before moving to Paris and seeking out Ray in 1929.  He was known for his darkroom experimentation, an evolution of photographic images made without a camera.  She worked in the darkroom alongside him as an assistant and collaborator and the story goes that one day, while they were developing negatives, a rat ran over her foot and she screamed and turned on the light.  Not only was this a completely reasonable reaction, but it was also a lucky one, because after they turned the light back on and dumped the negatives in the fixer, they discovered the effect of solarization, which they liked for the dream-like effect it created and both went on to use it on purpose.  Miller left Ray in 1932, set up her own studio, and had success as a photographer in her own right, always looking at the world with an experimental, surrealist eye, even in her work as a photojournalist accredited with the US Army during the darkest times of World War II.  Miller and Ray led separate lives and made separate work, but their mutual influence remained strongly evident and they eventually redeveloped a friendship that lasted until late in life.

Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence met in 1934, while Knight was working on a mural project for the works progress administration in Harlem, New York.  She had been mentored by sculptor Augusta Savage and was assisting the painter Charles Alston on murals at Harlem Hospital when she was introduced to Lawrence, a young artist making paintings of the Harlem community and also historical events rendered in bright colors and crisp shapes.  In 1940, Knight assisted Lawrence on the soon-to-be world-renowned "Migration Series", preparing the 60 panels and helping with the captions.  They married in 1941, the same year Lawrence's career took off after the huge success of his series.  While they both held to figuration and resisted the pull of abstract expressionism when it became all the rage, Knight's approach was looser and more expressive than Lawrence's, and she focused on portraiture, city scenes, and still lifes.  They traveled together extensively, provided constant support for each other, and were each other's most valued critics.  In 1968, Lawrence said of Knight, "It's provocative when you have a person like this whom you respect" and their partnership remained strong until he died in 2000.  

But back in 1946, Knight and Lawrence intersected with our next couple, when they were invited to teach at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, which was the home base for the incomparable Anni and Joseph Albers.  These two had met while studying at the (?~5:03) in (?~5:04), Germany.  He glassblowing, and she textiles, the only workshop open to women.  She embraced the medium, making abstract wall hangings that incorporate traditional yarn with horse hair and metallic threads.  He investigated color theory, abstraction, and composition through a wide range of materials and became known as a legendary teacher of the principles of design.  They fled the Nazi regime in 1933 and accepted teaching positions at the new Black Mountain College, where they both continued to make innovative work and were extremely influential teachers.  Both Anni and Joseph were consummate craftspeople, expert with their materials and forever and together dedicated to passing along their knowledge to future generations.

I hate to mention yet another couple who taught at Black Mountain College, but I must.  John Cage and Merce Cunningham, who first crossed paths in the late 1930s when Cage was the musical accompanist in a dance class that Cunningham was taking at the Cornish School in Seattle, but it was in New York that they began working together and fell in love and began a lifelong creative and romantic partnership.  Cage was a pioneer of experimental music, embracing chance as well as the odd and everyday sounds of life, and Cunningham, a pioneer of dance, thoroughly innovative and letting movement be the guide, not narrative or music.  That's part of what made their collaborative work so special, that each aspect of music and dance maintained their independence but coexisted nevertheless.  Sharing a mindset and approach and perhaps agreeing on certain structural points, but leaving plentiful room in the music for dance and plentiful room in the dance for music.  What better an analogy for partnership can there be?

Our final couple referred to their collaboration as a "unity of opposites" and it's Claes Oldenburg and Koosje Van Bruggen.  Van Bruggen was an art historian and curator when they first met in 1970 at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, assigned to help Oldenburg with an exhibition of his work.  He was known for his involvement in the early happenings in New York in the late 1950s and early '60s.  His installation "The Store", where he turned his studio into a neighborhood shop, selling everyday objects made out of sloppy plaster, and became associated with pop art with his scaled up and soft versions of common objects.  He had begun to propose monumental public art projects for cities and the first to be realized was this one at Yale University in 1969, but it wasn't until he paired up with Van Bruggen after 1976 that the large-scale anomalous objects you know and love really began popping up in cities around the world.  She continued to work as a critic and curator and also officially collaborated with him on over 40 large scale projects.  They came up with ideas jointly, he made drawings, and she chose colors and managed fabrication and sighting.  He maintained his playful devotion to non-art objects and she brought a more conceptual systematic approach to the partnership, which lasted until she passed away from cancer in 2009.  

That's all the love stories we have time for today, but there are so many more amazing artist couples that I'm sure you'll be mad if I don't mention.  Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, Sophie Tauber-Arp and Hans Arp, Sonia and Robert Delaunay, Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst, Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock, Elaine and William De Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, Abramovic and Ulay, Gilbert and George, Rachel Feinstein and John Currin, Allora and Calzadilla, and many more.  We'll have to save those for another time.

Collaborations come in many forms, many of them not at all romantic in nature and most creative partnerships are not lifelong, breaking apart when relationships sour or individuals need to branch off in new directions, but what I enjoy about artist couples is that they remind us that most artists are not lone geniuses, squirreled away in the studio making art in a vaccuum.  They have relationships that affect their art, whether their partner is an active collaborator, a sometimes consultant, or just a person who's around them a lot who has a life and interests and opinions that bleed over into their partners.  

All marriages, creative or otherwise, end, whether it's in break-up or death, but while they're together, magical things can happen.  Here's to all of them.  

Are you curious why I'm wearing this sweatshirt of a mostly hidden rose?  If so, check out our recent video, Art I Can't Show You, and if you're jealous of my sweatshirt of a mostly hidden rose or want to give one to an artist you love, head over to or click the link in the description to find this and other excellent Art Assignment merch. 

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