Book Shorts

From Rivera and Kahlo to Ulay and Abramović—this story book tells the tales of art world couples

Famous and not-so-famous pairs of artists from Picasso and Gilot to Idris Khan and Annie Morris are quoted about how relationships work

Asli Yazan, Maria Abramović and Ulay © Asli Yazan

It is not clear what this book has to say about love or about art, but it neatly summarises the lives and work of some famous and not so well known couples in modern art history and on the contemporary art scene.

So, we have, not surprisingly, the duos of Picasso and Gilot, Rivera and Kahlo, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Pollock and Krasner, Ray and Miller, Gilbert and George, the Bechers and the Kabakovs. Some of the women—Gilot (who had a lot of competition), Kahlo, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Camille Claudel, Anni Albers—have, of course, only with the advent of feminism emerged recently to claim their own spot in the sun. Others are inseparable as art teams, such as Gilbert and George, Tim Noble and Sue Webster. There are also the relationships of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely, and Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.

Some duos are a bit lopsided: it would be hard to argue that Maria Martins now commands as important a berth in art history as her lover Duchamp, or that Ulay is as significant as his significant other Maria Abramović (illustration by Asli Yazan). And feminist art history has a way to go to resurrect Maud Hunt Squire and Ethel Mars. Of course, the big question that hangs over contemporary couples is, especially those identified as working duos: what happens if one dies or if they split up? Only time will tell.

  • Kate Bryan, The Art of Love: the Romantic and Explosive Stories behind Art’s Greatest Couples, White Lion Publishing/Quarto Group, 186pp, £18.99, $27 (hb)