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Friday 02.14.14

« Linda Hutchins at the Governor's Office | Main | Fred Wilson Lecture »

Art Couples

The history of the visual arts is littered with significant couples. True, Donald Judd and Yayoi Kusama dated a bit but one could see why that would never last. Frankly, any time a particularly driven person (like a serious artist) is in a relationship it becomes a complicated situation... sometimes more so when it is two artists.

Steiglitz & O'Keefe, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Some relationships are more complicated than other and perhaps Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keefe are my all time favorite. NPR did an in depth post on their history here. What I find so interesting was the way they were soul mates more than anything else. They didn't even need to be near each other.

The Jackson Pollock / Lee Krasner marriage was similarly complicated but far more volatile with Pollock being a bit of an incomplete adult trying to fill in psychic holes. Still, it is pretty safe to say there never would have been a Pollock without a Krasner. She certainly steadied him and helped focus his thinking. Her own aesthetic discoveries were buried at first to make his seem more like an act of isolated genius. It reminds me of Clement Greenberg and Helen Frankenthaler. Her education and breeding provided a similar foil to Greenberg who was less sophisticated in his visual thinking until he met her.

Dorothy and Herbert Vogel in their apartment

Then there is the opposite end of that spectrum, the Vogels (Dorothy and Herbert). As collectors they pursued a mutual passion rather than mutual careers. Unlike two artists you don't have the question of whom is the most talented? Mutual interests are crucial.

Someimes it is a student/teacher thing like Gabriele Munter and Wassily Kandinsky. Those rarely last, nobody wants to be an apprentice forever.

Another favorite of mine is the classic artist/muse relationship of Egon Schiele and his first muse, Wally... a former prostitute whose lack of old school respectability doomed the intense relationship, one which began by flaunting such conservative values. Things don't have to be built to last to be significant.

There are other similar situations repeated over and over again with Picasso, which served to develop the artists mystique... though I'm fond of the way the second marriage to Jacqueline Roque seemed to steady him after years of tumult with Franciose Gillot.

Then there is Robert Rauschenberg and Japser John's intensely productive 6 year relationship that until recently wasn't talked about nearly enough.

Sometimes being in complementary disciples like Anne Leibovitz and Susan Sontag helps keep good boundaries. I've seen Leibovitz several times in Portland and she always stares at me as only very famous photographers can get away with.

Smithson and Holt

The same stands for Robert Smithson and his widowed wife Nancy Holt, who died earlier this week. Like Stieglitz and O'Keefe they were very photogenic and it played a role in their success. But what I liked about Smithson and Holt as a duo is that their collaborative films are actually very good pieces. That synergy doesn't work for most couples and it is better to not try to force collaboration if it isn't a good fit.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on February 14, 2014 at 13:53 | Comments (1)


Great post!

Here are a couple more interesting reads on the subject and why it can be a challenging match. The second link is a longer read but fascinating thesis on creative women.



Posted by: Douglas [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 15, 2014 01:39 PM

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