This autumn, the Barbican presents Modern Couples: a comprehensive exploration into some of the most well-known creative relationships in the art and design world. The Conran Shop visited the exhibition to learn more about the history behind these game-changing and often previously unexplored design partnerships.
Boasting twenty-three rooms filled with explorations into the life and work of over forty creative and personal relationships, the Barbican's pioneering interdisciplinary exhibition is filled with rare archival material and original artworks.
From life-long relationships to fleeting attractions, the exhibition explores how Dora Maar made Pablo Picasso’s famous machismo her subject, how Frida Kahlo’s tumultuous relationship with Diego Rivera inspired her 1946 painting Wounded Deer and how Leonora Carrington and Max Ernst indulged in their love of mythology together. However, it is the focus on iconic furniture designers that most piqued our interest.
Taking pride of place on the exhibition’s second floor is a room dedicated to the work of the husband and wife design duo Aino and Alvar Aalto. Renowned across the world for instigating a move away from Nordic Classicism and towards Modernism, the duo founded the design house Artek in 1935.
Taking its name from a synthesis of ‘art’ and ‘technology’ – concepts that were central to the international modernist movement – Aino and Alvar Aalto aspired to fuse design, architecture and art through Artek.
Creating iconic designs such as the Tea Trolley 900 and the Lounge Chair 43, the Aaltos are recognised for their pioneering use of wood bending and the creation of the innovative L-leg, as well as iconic glassware such as the Bölgeblick range, which was also showcased at the exhibition.
The exhibition continues by exploring the relationship of Modernist architect Eileen Gray and French architect and designer Jean Badovici. A passionate relationship that spanned nearly thirty years, together the duo created the E-1027 Villa in France, while Badovici is also credited with giving Gray support that was instrumental in her artistic development.
The exhibition boasts a carefully curated selection of Gray’s original pieces, on loan from various collections, including a cabinet with pivoting drawers, a dressing screen and her iconic Bibendum Chair.
Paying homage to the French figure Monsieur Bibendum, the Bibendum Chair’s segmented design, accented with chromium-painted steel tubing, mirrors the iconic Michelin Man’s distinctive silhouette and remains a unique creation to this day.
Nestled in an alcove on the stairs within the exhibition space is an ode to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich’s iconic Barcelona Chair. Originally designed in 1929, the now iconic Barcelona Chair was first created to offer a decadent and comfortable resting place for the King of Spain when he visited the German Pavilion at Barcelona’s International Exposition of 1929.
Despite being Mies van der Rohe’s creative collaborator and joint Artistic Director of the German Pavilion, esteemed designer Lilly Reich is often left by the wayside when discussing the Barcelona Chair. Now widely recognised as co-author of the 20th century design icon, the Modern Couples exhibition helps to recognise Lilly Reich’s place in the design hall of fame.
The ‘Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde’ exhibition is on display at the Barbican from 10th October until 27th January 2019.