Artist couples: how those who unite work, creation and love live
Create and love. That is the path traveled by some well-known couples of artists who managed to advance as a duo in a field where the most intimate and personal gaze is at stake. In this note, they tell us how they experience this vital challenge and what they find in this unique shared creative act.
Pioneering pop couple in the local sphere, Delia Cancela (Buenos Aires, 1940) and Pablo Mesejean (1937-1991) met in the bar of the Prilidiano Pueyrredón School of Fine Arts, they married in 1965 and from that moment until the end of the seventies created together. They wrote the manifesto We love. They participated in the Audiovisual Experimentation Center of the Torcuato Di Tella Institute, where they launched the Clothes with Risk parade. In Love and life, a galactic universe in the Lirolay gallery, combined performance, painting, installation and music. Delia today considers that the couple of artists Galaxia and Mar are “trans children” of that couple she formed with Pablo.
Asked about what motivated them to work together, Cancela replies: “It was for a matter of competitionNow I can say it, before I didn’t say it. I am very sorry that Pablo is not here to be able to discuss it with him. Pablo was terribly competitive: he wasn’t jealous for love issues, but he was competitive at work. We were both doing well, but when at the beginning of the 1960s I began to receive invitations, Pablo went crazy: he couldn’t stand, for example, not being invited somewhere. Since everything was a problem, I told him ‘let’s solve this: let’s work together’. I love working with others.”
“After we separated, it was very difficult for both of us to restart. I did a lot of works but I couldn’t show them: I was very insecure,” says Cancela.
They joined a work of each one: those assembled racks marked the beginning of the joint creation. Then, for a decade, they worked with four hands on the same piece. They traveled to New York and then to London in 1970, where at a dizzying pace their work was published in magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. They made textiles and prints for the Japanese designer Kenzo and the French maison Hermès. And they created Pablo & Delia, their own clothing brand that is part of the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. “He said that Pablo and Delia sounded better. Yes, maybe it sounded better, but it could be the other way around: I created a logo with our names that could be read as Pablo and Delia or Delia and Pablo”, comments the artist.
Among them, recalls Cancela, there was always a crisis, but at the same time desire, creativity and the ability to think the same thing in perfect synchronicity. “In our couple, work was the most important thing: everything was built there,” he says. And he adds: “Our attraction had to do with creation. After we parted ways, we both had a really hard time starting over. I did a lot of works but I couldn’t show them: it made me very insecure. I started to recover after many years: I was a half”.
Today Cancela, who lives between Paris and Buenos Aires and adjusts details for the fanzine Nosotras captives, thinks a lot about Pablo: sometimes she imagines what her life would have been like without that man whom she remembers “very handsome (men and women liked him), very good, loved by all, able to shine, pure exuberance”.
Like Cancela and Mesejean, Juliana Laffitte (Buenos Aires, 1974) and Manuel Mendanha (Buenos Aires, 1976), who formed the Mondongo collective more than two decades ago, met at the bar of the Prilidiano Pueyrredón School of Fine Arts. The first kiss was during a lunch outing at the Ernesto de la Cárcova Higher School of Fine Arts. After finishing school, they got married. A photo from those years, the one of the kiss that sealed the joy when they passed the final exam, illustrates the invitation to White Rabbits, a dazzling exhibition that can be seen in the Barro gallery from Monday, February 7.
“Between us it was fascination: we found in each other many things that we did not know,” Mendanha recalls of that deep bond that unites them to this day. In the first meetings they exchanged precious books for each one and, at the same time, unknown to the other.
A year after getting married, when they had not yet worked together nor imagined that they would get to exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Maxxi Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome, the LACMA (Los Angeles) and the MNBA, or that their work would be bought by the sheikha of Abu Dhabi, they went through a deep crisis and decided to travel to New York to see if they could “resurge the relationship”. “After that trip we understood that our true and strongest union was given by art -considers Laffitte-. That was a deep mark to sustain our couple in crises and think beyond us.
“We are not jealous or have problems over daily issues, we can simply fight to the death over a painting, but the other always takes a backseat”, says Manuel Mendanha
“We believe that the work of the two together is more powerful than the individual: when we connect, we become something different,” says Mendanha. And he continues: “We are not jealous or have problems over everyday issues, we can simply fight to the death over a painting, but the other always takes a backseat”.
They work 12 hours straight in their workshop in Palermo (from 7 in the morning without exception; Saturdays and Sundays, if there is an exhibition at the door). “At this point we are like a two-headed monster: although sometimes an idea is said by Manuel or by me, we do not think that one is the enlightened one, but that this is a broth that has been cooking between the two,” says Laffitte –.And not only between us, but everything we do is embedded in a number of influences”.
United by their long intertwined hair, in Relation in Time, Marina Abramovic (Belgrade, 1946) and Ulay (Germany, 1943- Slovenia, 2020), a consecrated couple in life and art from 1975 to 1988, alluded to a strange new entity born of both. In several of their performances they addressed the latent tensions of their relationship. The cooperation turned into suffocating suffocation was embodied in Breathing in / Breathing out, where they breathed together through their mouths until they fell unconscious. With even more violent performances, they delved into the link between lovers capable of becoming creepy.
In Rest Energy, which for Abramovic represented a portrait of mutual loyalty, both held a bow with a drawn arrow that pointed directly at the artist’s heart. With an artistic action, they ended the relationship: each one walked from one end of the Chinese Wall to meet for a heartbreaking goodbye.
Jeanne-Claude (Morocco, 1935-USA, 2009) and Christo (Bulgaria, 1935-USA, 2020) wrapped exterior fabrics of emblematic buildings, bridges and outdoor spaces. His dream of packing the Arc de Triomphe was fulfilled posthumously. A retrospective exhibition of the pair of artists, which includes photography, drawings, collages and plans, can be seen in the brand new MACA (Museum of Contemporary Art Atchugarry) in Punta del Este, which opened its doors on January 8. Jeanne-Claude and Christo, who worked together for more than half a century and decided to sign the works under Christo’s name, considered each shared project “like a son”.
Gilbert & George, famous couple of artists who have been together for more than half a century doing performances, body art and living sculptures, when describing their relationship in life and in their works, they maintained: “It is not a collaboration: we are two people, but only one artist”.
Gilbert & George: “It is not a collaboration: we are two people, but one artist”.
Robert Capa was the pseudonym created by André Friedmann and Gerda Taro (pseudonym of Gerta Pohorylle), who fell in love after fleeing Nazi persecution and began working together. That secret united the couple even more: she helped him create the right profile for this imaginary man (an inaccessible American photographer, who only had contact with them) who became the most famous war correspondent of the 20th century, whose Photos, until Taro’s death, were the ones they both took. As they shared a pseudonym, it is often difficult to be sure who each shot is from, for example during the Spanish Civil War, which they covered together.
Interdisciplinary artists, Emilio García Wehbi (Bs.As, 1964) and Maricel Álvarez (Bs.As., 1973) met more than 20 years ago, when Wehbi was directing Sin vozes at the Centro de Experimentación del Teatro Colón and Álvarez was an actress in that opera.
“Together we are strong,” says Álvarez, who is currently curator of the Filoctetes Archive, a document of an intervention at the CCK, an exhibition inspired by Wehbi’s Filoctetes Project. As a duo, they created and directed La Columna Durruti, a collective of performance actions that took place in 2020 at the Reina Sofía Museum; they traveled to residencies at the Museo del Chopo (Mexico City), co-directed Casa que Arde at the Bern State Theater and traveled together for work to the Free University of Berlin and the Kyoto University of Arts and Design, among countless shared projects.
“When we don’t work together, the other always collaborates from the shadows. Everything I write goes through Maricel’s filter, and what she does through mine. When I say filter, I don’t mean to say if it’s good or bad, but rather that the other person’s gaze gives it a plus”, says Wehbi, who did the first joint curatorship with Álvarez in the second edition of the Chandon Artground festival.
The couple says that the effects of time did not wear out the relationship one iota. Álvarez –curator of the Biennial of Performance, directed by Graciela Casabé– defines the couple’s bond as “a long constant conversation”: “We are consulting each other or giving our opinions, which are sometimes conflicting. We are to discuss, but fortunately we have never fought in personal or artistic terms.
Wehbi adds: “We don’t have the same interests or the same points of view or the same criteria: this is what is interesting. A dialectic was generated, in which when there is a willingness to listen and in us there is, the best idea or the best proposal is always the one that wins”.
For their part, Leo Chiachio (Banfield, 1969) and Daniel Giannone (Córdoba, 1964), who have been working together for two decades, embroider fabrics as if they were baroque paintings.
“We discovered that together we are better,” says Giannone. Chiachio adds: “We never did separate works or gave interviews alone again nor did we do separate photo shoots: we have very clear, as part of our work, that concept of the registered trademark”.
Also Lolo and Lauti, a duo of artists from video art and performance who have been working together for a decade now and whose interactive installation Mirtha is you can be seen in Art at play, a fabulous exhibition at Proa, consider that “they are good mutual editors”. Lolo, who together with Lauti will do a residency in New York in 2022, says: “We share one hundred percent of the authorship of the works: the ideas never belong to one or the other, but are a product of the conversation between both ”. A conversation that, as in the case of Álvarez and García Wehbi, one senses is nourished by a fruitful dialectic exercise.