10 Artist Romances With Mostly Happy Endings


“An artist should avoid falling in love with another artist, an artist should avoid falling in love with another artist, an artist should avoid falling in love with another artist…” reads Marina Abramović‘s artist manifesto. Cynical? Live with another performance artist in a van for a decade, and then decide.

Ah, artist couples. Their love is fraught with temperamental tension and lubricated by each others’ creative juices. How does it work? Let’s look at some famed artist romances that are still smearing their mark all over art history.

Performance artists Marina Abramović and Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen) met in Amsterdam in 1976 and commenced with a decade long collaboration. As one hermaphroditic “two-headed body,” they slam-moved walls, formed nude doorways, screamed themselves sore, and damn near killed each other. Then things got rough, as things do. Naturally, this was no average separation. Marina and Ulay each walked 2500 km of the Great Wall of China toward each other to meet in the middle and say a final goodbye.

A year ago, Ulay and Marina reunited tearfully across a table at the superstar’s MoMA retrospective as she performed her three-month-long endurance piece The Artist Is Present . Now that’s meaningful eye-contact. Best break-up ever?

Surrealist painter Frida Kahlo and communist muralist Diego Rivera first met when she was art student looking for advice from the famous (and at the time, married) artist. They were married twice, nurtured and tortured each other with jealousy, infidelity and artistic inspiration. All of that really benefited the arts.

In the ’70s, transgressive performance artist and musician (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV) Genesis P-Orridge got inspired by friend William S. Burroughs’ comment on subverting control. P-Orridge and wife Lady Jaye then embarked on a life-long, radical project to become “an indivisible third,” a “pandrogyne” — two identical parts of a whole. There was drastic and frequent plastic surgery involved. Lady Jaye tragically passed away in 2007, but their “ballad” goes on.

Bulgaria-born Christo and Casablanca-born Jeanne-Claude had a scandalous affair in 1958. It had a romantic ending because they were destined for big things. Really, really big things — like islands wrapped in pink and cities draped in orange. Only Jeanne-Claude’s death from brain aneurysm complications in 2009 separated them. Christo continues their collective work.

It takes a special lady to fully appreciate a man who professes feminine perfection as a tall, sturdy, preferably headless Amazonian, salivating and sweating all the way. Luckily, not only did fellow artists R. Crumb and Aline Kominsky-Crumb recognize each others’ talents, but they made one talented family together.

Married photographers Richard Kern and Martynka Wawrzyniak aren’t the jealous type… at least not the average jealous type. Both work in tantalizing situations in the company of attractive others. They’re sort of into it.

As part of Voina (“War”) collective, radical performance artists Natalia “The Kid” Sokol and Oleg “The Thief” Vorotnikov have been the terrorizing and irritating corrupt Russian authorities since the ’90s. Natalia was hell-bent against marriage but fell in love hard and proposed. Even though Oleg spent their last anniversary in jail for an anarchist performance action, they could never be closer. Their toddler Kasper the Striking Falcon has taken part in Voina’s actions — from phallic graffiti bombing of a bridge to turning over police cars — since he was born.

Since 1967, it was love at first sight for artists Gilbert & George. A collaborative, inseparable duo, and proud dwellers of London’s East End, they share a love full of giant kaleidoscopic visions as living, singing sculptures.

Partners Matthew Barney and Björk making art together makes as much sense as peanut butter and jelly, if peanut butter is an epically unrestrained performance artist and jelly is an avant-garde pop siren turned exquisite collaborator.

Brooklyn-based artists Eva and Franco Mattes a.k.a. 0100101110101101.org (pronounced zero-one-dot-org) are an adventurous little duo, online and off. They’ve reenacted iconic performance art in Second Life to committed “suicide” on ChatRouelette. IRL, they lifted many little pieces of art (chips of the olde Duchamp’s urinal anyone?) for an exhibit. You know what they say… A couple that goes to Chernobyl to hijack a radioactive DIY carousel and plop it in the middle of Manchester together… stays together.