Modern Couples examines love’s potency and its role in shaping some of the world’s most celebrated works of art. A peek inside the lives of nearly 40 legendary pairings reveals bonds based on activism; shared ideology; rarely ‘equality’, always beauty. The most private moments of these cultural giants are laid out for our delectation; voyeurs, we’re privy to their seductions and intimacies, permitted by proxy to indulge musings on our own affairs. Peeking at letters between lovers – “you must resuscitate my soul each night like an elixir" – cues the inner voice, “I wish someone would write to me like that.” Gazing into a private past, the love that blossomed between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West ("sometimes women do like women"), we’re projecting our own dreams of Cupid onto tantalisingly blank canvases.
Love is devotion; take Marcel Duchamp and Maria Martins. The Brazilian artist, successful in her own right (though whose name has stayed the course?), swept Duchamp off his feet at her New York gallery. Perhaps he liked her intense lithographs – I do. Amazon-inspired beings and complex lines entangle like the roots of an ancient tree, and, if her art is anything to go by, Martins was a charismatic woman. As such, Duchamp dedicated to her four (odd) sculpted objects. His casts of Martins sit on a plinth, hard to make out at first – until their accompanying texts give the game away. So: we’re looking at Martins’ anus (cool! intimate!) sitting beside the “wedge of chastity” – a mould of negative space around her vagina. "I want the nostalgia of my presence to […] paralyse you" Martins wrote to Duchamp, but, tellingly, she’s the one petrified. Mixed into the overwhelming devotion of dedicating one’s art to another, there is reduction: Martins is boiled down to her orifices via these expressive sculptures, ultimately chewed up and spat out by the looming spectre of genius. A jealous god, it’s claimed many devotees throughout history.