MODERN COUPLES: ART, INTIMACY AND THE AVANT-GARDE | London, Barbican

On arrival, visitors are greeted by a huge wall featuring the names and photographs of about forty(!) artist couples, whose work is the focus of this vast, ambitious project. Navigating each reverentially hushed, individual space feels like peering into a private room. Long passages of text on the walls describe the artists, their relationships and collaborations.

Many of these artists saw their relationships as ways to explore different media, and even create new artistic movements, such as Sonia and Robert Delauney’s Simultanism, a form of abstract art inspired by the musical qualities of paintings, and Benedetta and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s Tactilism, inspired by the sensitivity of the skin.

There are so many highlights: glimpses of the correspondence between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville West, the inspiration for Woolf’s novel Orlando; Man Ray’s photographs of Lee Miller and their erotic impact on Surrealism; and Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore ­– first lovers, later stepsisters – whose work challenges concepts of gender.

The best way to experience this two-storey maze of rooms is to dedicate a good few hours to it: tickets are valid all day and guests are able to return to the exhibition after a break. Visitors are even provided with a complimentary ‘Glossary’, which helpfully groups material together under alphabetised themes. This vast and remarkable show needs to be savoured to be truly enjoyed.

Peek into the lives and loves of these Modern Couples until 27 January 2019.

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