Love! Passion! Art! NYAB’s Top Ten Artists Who Do It Together

This Valentine’s Day, love is in the air and on the walls. NYAB looks at ten artist teams making beautiful art together.

In Features by Laura Meli 2009-02-13 print

Gilbert & George. Photo: Derry Moore.

Gilbert and George

Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore, better known as Gilbert & George, met in school in 1967 where they bonded over their shared distaste for the elitist approach to sculpture. This meeting, they have said, was “love at first sight.” The two soon began their collaborative partnership, developing performances known as Living Sculptures. By turning themselves into sculpture, they sacrificed their individual identities for art, thus justifying their claim that all their actions indeed constitute art. The inseparable and always well-dressed pair refers to all of their art as sculpture, though they have moved from performance to painting to photography and computerized art. For over 40 years and through it all, the Turner prize winners Gilbert & George have stayed in character, one almost never being seen without the other.

Bernd and Hilla Becher

A passion for industrial structures brought German artists Bernd and Hilla Becher together. The two met while studying painting at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, and first collaborated in 1959. Photographing raw industrial towers, kilns, silos, furnaces, and grain elevators proved to be quite the romantic elixir for this pair and they were soon married two years later. On a lifelong honeymoon, the two traveled the United States and Europe photographing their “anonymous sculptures.” Scouting sites and seeking a certain aesthetic, the couple was known to hole up for days at a locale waiting for bad weather to pass or for just the right light to reveal itself. Now that’s romance….

Georgia O'Keefe and Alfred Steiglitz, 1944. Photo: Arnold Newman.

Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe

When Georgia O’Keeffe sent her charcoal drawings to a friend in New York City in 1916, she had no idea they would turn up on the walls of photographer Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery 291. The then 54-year-old Alfred convinced the young dairy farmer’s daughter to leave the pictures up and to continue her artistic explorations. The pair soon began working together – she as his muse – much to the chagrin of his wife who, upon finding O’Keeffe posing in the nude for Stieglitz, kicked them both out. Steiglitz’s racy portraits of O’Keeffe caused quite a stir in more ways than one, and O’Keeffe finally agreed to marry the man 23 years her senior, in 1924. Over the course of a decade, the couple collaborated on more than 300 photos together.

Alina and Jeff Bliumis

Multidisciplinary artists Alina and Jeff left the former Soviet Union 12 years apart, but their paths crossed in New York City, and they became a team in 2000. They tap into their own experiences as immigrants to address issues of isolation and displacement. Though their work deals with the notion of barriers, both verbal and physical, it seems nothing can get in the way of this creative couple.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Photo: Wolfgang Volz.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude

In 1958, Christo was commisioned to paint a portrait of Précilda de Guillebon, but his artist’s eye soon wandered to her lovely daughter, Jeanne-Claude. Though Jeanne-Claude was engaged to another man and soon married, her heart belonged to the painter. Soon after her honeymoon she left her husband to be with Christo, whose child she was carrying. The environmental-installation artists unveiled their first project in 1961, married the year after, and have been collaborating together ever since. They even officially changed their artist moniker to “the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude” and have said they try to infuse their temporary work with the qualities of love and tenderness.

Jean (Hans) Arp and Sophie Taeuber Arp

In 1915, Dadaism, of which Arp was a founding member, sparked a manifesto of love for the pair, who were married and worked together for 21 fruitful years. Their union was one of love and artistic intimacy, motivated by dreams of utopia and communion. Each played the role of muse, supporter, and guide, always striving to achieve a more communal work of art. Arp continued to “collaborate” with Sophie after her death in 1943, reworking some of their projects into collages. This continued collaboration spoke directly to their subtle message in previous works that art, love, and marriage were inseparable ideas.

Katherine Dreier and Marcel Duchamp

Katherine S. Dreier and Marcel Duchamp

It seems the spirit of collaboration that ran through Dadaism quite often led to collaborations of another sort. Though no one is quite certain of the extent of their intimacy, the dynamic partnership between Katherine S. Dreier and Marcel Duchamp inspired each to change the face of modern art in their own individual way. Duchamp, a painter, rebel, and sometimes cross-dresser, was another founding member of Dadaism, while Dreier, a dowdy painter, arts patron, organizer and feminist, introduced the first loosely conceived modern art museum. Where would modern art be today if not for the undeniable allure of the urinal….

Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle

Being married to other people couldn’t keep this beautiful and rebellious couple apart. Swiss-born sculptor Jean Tinguely and French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle first worked together in 1955, became a couple in 1960, took other lovers, but eventually married in 1971. While not always faithful to each other in the traditional sense, they were unwaveringly faithful supporters of each others’ artistic endeavors, and collaborated together on many environment-altering installations. They were an unlikely match, he coming from a working class background and she from an aristocratic family; however, they were partners in love and art, a partnership that lasted 30 years until Tinguely’s death in 1991.

Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry

Love was literally in the air when then-flight attendant Jacqueline met Bradley in 1996. They began working as an artist team in 1998, though Tarry had no training as an artist, and married soon thereafter. Often woven into the context of their work are the social politics of their relationship as an interracial couple. Their powerful work takes the form of paintings, video, performance pieces, photography and sculpture, and addresses important and complex issues such as violence, racial and social injustice, family and history. The couple, who have a son and live and work in Brooklyn, say that fostering communication is central to all their projects (and their marriage).

Gill and Jill Bumby

Gill and Jill Bumby

The anonymous duo, Gill and Jill Bumby, will not divulge how they met or the exact nature of their relationship. They encourage speculation, and offer that it is part of the experience of being appraised. According to Jill, Gill was looking for a female sidekick for his evaluation performance, and she “immediately got what he wanted to achieve.” They have been working together for a year and a half, and remain a mystery behind their wigs, glasses and handkerchiefs. The performance artists set up shop with antique typewriters, and for a small fee, type out “Fair and Honest Appraisals of Your Appearance,” along with an appearance rating, using a scale of 1-10. The Bumby’s say that “being a Bumby takes up a huge portion of our time.”

Laura Meli

Laura Meli. With degrees in art history, the visual arts and arts administration, Laura works at ArtTable and is on the board of Underworld Productions Opera Ensemble. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their plants, hates when people block the door on the subway and always wishes she ordered what you ordered. » See other writings


About NYABlog

NYABlog's writers and video reporters deliver regular reviews, features and interviews to stimulate discussion about all sides of New York's creative scene.

The views expressed on NYABlog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of their employers, or NY Art Beat.

All content on this site is © their respective owner(s).
New York Art Beat (2008) - About - Contact - Privacy - Terms of Use