THE MODERN LOVERS
TEN CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS WHO MAKE IMAGES OF THEIR BELOVED
selected by Leanne Shapton
- Keith Arnatt
- Don Brown
- Jem Cohen
- Paul Cox
- R. Crumb
- John Currin
- Brad Phillips
- Sigmar Polke
- A. L. Steiner
- Not Vital
Think Rossetti and his best friend’s girl, Jane Morris; Bonnard and his bathing beauty, Marthe; Man Ray’s giant painting of Lee Miller’s American lips; Picasso and Olga, Marie-Therese, Dora, Francoise… Our museums are full of heartbreakers. The love lives of others have always made for good viewing.
Pictures like these pull us into serial, looping relationships with their subjects; we see them through our own eyes, then objectively through the eyes of the artist, who is observing their subject’s response. Love’s relics—a creased pillow or scrap of familiar handwriting—can also cast powerful spells.
I’ve chosen ten of my art-about-the-beloved favorites for these pages—artists and their modern muses who transcend the sentimental. I found more men looking at women than women looking at men. Interestingly, while more examples of women rendering beloved women are emerging, and men looking at men has always been popular, I found that examples of women looking adoringly at men were few. There are exceptions (like Elizabeth Peyton’s weak-kneed watercolors of Tony Just), but it seems straight women artists have not been as forthcoming with ardent visual meditations on boyfriends or husbands.
In an art climate of celebrity and colossus, this kind of work holds steady. There will always be love stories; there will always be different ways of saying it. Ever a mix between schmaltzy and divine, love will keep us together and love will tear us apart.
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