Review: Modern Couples at the Barbican

The Barbican Centre’s Modern Couples exhibition (open until 27 Jan) presents a different way of looking at art, by appreciating how intimate relationships inspired the modern artworks on display. We sent our writer Jess Browne-Swinburne to check it out. 

We often only associate a piece of art with the signature that sits at the bottom of the painting. Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde, however, shows how artistic couples working during the 1900s inspired each other.

I really appreciated the diverse range of art and artists covered: it begins with small clay models by French sculptor Rodin, depicting his lover Camille Claudel; next, there are images of the life-sized doll commissioned by Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschika, of his lost lover Alma Mahler; finally, there are the architectural collaborations between Ireland’s Eileen Gray and Frenchman Jean Badovici, who conducted a very discreet relationship. You really have to adjust as each new art form is presented, but you’re left with a strong sense of the elastic power that desire and love hold over the creation art. 

Watch our video about the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries at Westminster Abbey here 

50 artist couples are covered. That may seem overwhelming, but I liked the diversity of relationships here: there’s the love between husband and wife, such as Diego Riviera and Frida Khalo; homosexual relationships between both men and women are represented; more unique marriages are here too, such as between Gerda Wegener and her wife, the transgender landscape artist Lili Elbe (played by Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl).

I thoroughly recommend Modern Couples: from paintings to sculpture and photography to literature, it shows how the most avant-garde couples of the modern art movement lived, learned and loved together. 

Barbican Centre, Silk St, EC2Y 8DS
020 7638 8891 |

Love architecture? Catch Renzo Piano: The Art of Making Buildings at The Royal Academy of Arts before it closes on 20 January.

London Planner London Planner London Planner

The Latest Social Stories