How free is free love? How polyamory lost its allure

A detail from Tamara de Lempicka’s Les Deux Amies (1923), one of the artworks in the Modern Couples exhibition. The Polish artist had relationships with both men and women. Photograph: Association des Amis du Petit Palais, Geneve

Lara Feigel, The Guardian, 30 Nov 2018 [Recommended by Linda Zajac]

Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde at the Barbican Art Gallery in London

Why do we embrace monogamy over sexual experimentation? Artists and writers who tried more radical arrangements have a lot to teach us, writes Lara Feigel

In 1919 the German Dada artist Raoul Hausmann dismissed marriage as “the projection of rape into law”. It’s a statement that relishes its own violence: he is limbering up to fight marriage to the death. A strange mixture of dandy, wild man, provocateur and social engineer, Hausmann believed that the socialist revolution the Dadaists sought couldn’t be attained without a corresponding sexual revolution. And he lived as he preached. He was married, but was also in a four-year relationship with fellow artist Hannah Höch.

Hausmann and Höch form one of the couples in the Barbican’s Modern Couples exhibition, which shows the freewheeling experimentation of interwar art to be inseparable from even more extravagant experiments in sexuality and coupledom. The exhibition includes several of the partly whimsical, partly grim collages Höch made at this time. Bobbing her hair and smoking in public, Höch was a self-styled “new woman” who shared Hausmann’s carnivalesque contempt for bourgeois morality. Her Bourgeois Wedding Couple (Quarrel) photomontage from 1919 satirises the married pair as ungainly children. The bride teeters on the boots of a grown-up woman, but she has the body of a mannequin and the face of an overgrown baby whose tantrum is observed by her childlike spouse….

… if any of the couples on the walls of the Barbican have anything to say, then it’s not because they got it right or wrong but because they showed how high the stakes were in trying to move beyond the family structure at all – how much there was to be gained as well as how much to be lost in seeking a mode of living that incorporated the couple within the communal. Looking back on these experiments, many of them seem wildly flawed. But let’s revisit them not just with curious nostalgia but with urgent questions about how to live.”

Read more at The Guardian.