Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Picasso and Dora Maar, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz - the history of art is full of passionate, turbulent and remarkable love affairs between artists. But if creativity can be a solitary struggle for expression then what price creativity when one’s partner is also striving for artistic excellence? Where does support, tolerance, compromise end and competition, maybe even rivalry begin?
Antony Gormley and Vicken Parsons, Gary Hume and Georgie Hopton, and Rem Koolhaas and Madelon Vriesendorp are among 10 couples creating a drawing, painting, sculpture or video together for a new show Sweethearts: Artist Couples, staged by the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery in London.
It’s co-curated by the gallery and Kathy Battista, director of contemporary art at the Sotheby's Institute Of Art in New York. She tells us the idea of the show wasn't to focus on couples who already worked together but to set up a discourse between two people who already had two, very strong, individual practices.
This exhibition has an unusual premise in that it features first time collaborations between well-known artist couples.
"The exhibition mainly features commissioned works, and thus is very diverse, and spread across a variety of mediums. It includes painting (Gary Hume and Georgie Hopton; Neo Rauch and Rosa Loy; Ian Davenport and Sue Arrowsmith), sculpture (Antony Gormley and Vicken Parsons), but then it also extends to installation (Richard and Jane Wentworth) and a take away wet wipe – what I would describe as a relational work by Sam Durant and Ana Prvacki. They’ve created a wet wipe with an image of their daughter’s hand on it that every visitor will be able to take away. It ties into ideas of hygiene, gender, ubiquity, mass production, and globalisation."
Are there cases where one artist’s influence seems stronger, or more evident, in the work?
"I think the best works are those where it’s a real mixture of the two artists’ practices. For example, the collaboration between Gary Hume and Georgie Hopton on one level looks very much like a Gary Hume, but if you look closer, Georgie’s aesthetic is very clear: the flowers as subject matter. When two strong, individual artists come together, somebody has to compromise, and I was very interested in seeing how that would play out. There are some cases where I would say the power dynamic between the couple is visible in the work. But in a lot of cases it really is a beautiful amalgam of the two. Kelly Barrie and Sherin Guirguis have made a work that really works as a hybrid, integrating key elements of both their practices – the performative photography of Barrie and the sculptural patterning of Guirguis. Sherin created a classical Islamic pattern on black paper using white powder; she and Kelly then danced to a traditional Egyptian love song on the surface of the paper, resulting in the footprints and obscuring of the pattern in places. This was then photographed and printed in large scale – four by eight feet."
There's a received narrative about artist couples, often, the male partner is presented as the primary figure. Does the exhibition acts as a corrective to that narrative about creativity?
"We have an incredible image of Rosa Loy and Neo Rauch painting together in the studio – it really goes against the stereotype of the lone male artist in the studio, or worse yet the wife observing from the sidelines, as in the famous photograph of Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock. That’s what I was interested in dismantling. I wanted to rupture that image because it’s not representative of how work is often made."
Have you had feedback from the artists about what it's been like to work together for the first time?
"It’s varied, I think – for some it was a very exciting process. For others, I think it was more challenging. Richard Wentworth did say to us that despite the fact that he and Jane are ‘conjoined’, they were made to realise how uncollaborative they really were. But that was part of the exercise. A lot of the artists that I discuss in my forthcoming book (Renegotiating The Body, Feminist Art In 1970s London), were the wives and partners of more successful male artists. In many cases their husbands were very supportive – they were the partners of feminists artists in the 1970s, after all. So I thought it was important to reposition that inequity as more of a cultural and market driven phenomenon."