Summer can be a bummer. All your friends are busy drinking rosé on rooftops or getting henna tattoos in Bali, and you’re just trying to find a work outfit that can withstand both subway sweat and the arctic tundra of the over-air-conditioned gallery/museum. Maybe you’re depressed coming off the Basel high; maybe you’re still nursing some Basel FOMO. Maybe you’re secretly praying for a natural disaster to shut down the city so you can convalesce in bed for a week, recovering from Basel.
But summer can also suck for romantic reasons. What should be the season of love, if every rom com in the world is to be believed, can quickly go south—and I’m not talking about an impromptu weekend in Mexico. Sometimes life veers off script, and what should have been a steamy beach scene gets swapped last minute for… a breakup.
Blame the capricious will of the gods; blame Sakara Life for being too damn expensive. Or, blame your own hubris—maybe if you’d sucked it up and done your kegels like Gwyneth Paltrow wants you to, you’d still have your man.
But what’s done is done. Unless your performance art deals with corpulent bodies, it’s not the best season to start inhaling Häagen-Dazs by the bucket. Here’s a better idea: heal your sorrow with art. So bid adieu to the edgelord that that broke your heart—and bonjour to ten fabulous pieces of art.
1) Judith Bernstein, Cockman #2 (1966)
Men can be dicks, and no one knows it better than pioneering feminist neo-expressionist Judith Bernstein. Her cockmen are meant to critique the patriarchy and its politics, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use her work to sublimate your angst about the cockman in your own life. Next time ex-bae drunk texts you, instead of responding with some choice words that would make your grandma blush, just send him back Cockman #2. After all, a picture’s worth a thousand words.
P.S. Women can be cockmen, too. As my grandma always said, you don’t have to have a dick to be a dick. Ok, she never actually said that, but I would love to see that embroidered on a pillow somewhere.
2) Sophie Calle, Take Care of Yourself (2009)
If you think your breakup is tough on you, I can guarantee that it’s harder on your friends and family. After all, they’re the ones who have to listen to you bitch and moan about the same Snap story for two hours straight. Remember how annoying Carrie got after she broke up with Big? Don’t be like Carrie and abuse your friends as free therapy.
Instead, next time you feel the urge to convene a scholarly forum to discuss your breakup from all possible angles, immerse yourself in Sophie Calle’s Take Care of Yourself. When a lover broke up with her in an email, Calle recruited more than 100 women from all walks of life to weigh in. The resulting artwork eventually became a book, which you can order online.
3) Camille Henrot, “Systems of Attachment” series (2019)
Left to right: The Tip of Our Nose, The Three Graces, Urgence de Vie.
Attachment theory is so hot right now. In case you’re not familiar, attachment theory is a system psychologists use to explain and predict how you act in close relationships. Your childhood experiences play a big role in shaping your future relationships, but this doesn’t mean you get to blame all your romantic mishaps on daddy issues. Even if daddy didn’t come to your soccer games, it’s completely in your power to change your attachment style so you can form healthier relationships. But first, you have to know what your style is—luckily, there’s a test for that.
In her latest series, unveiled at Basel, Camille Henrot dives into the garish world of attachment. According to Henrot’s gallerist, Alexander Ferrando, Henrot wanted to explore “the necessity to actually separate, to individuate, from the parent or romantic relationship.” Use these drawings to take a long, hard look at your relationship. Was it healthy? Was it, really? Perhaps Henrot is telling you that your breakup was actually a blessing in disguise.
4) Ruth Miller Kempster, The Housewife (c. 1935)
Look closely. What’s behind this woman’s eyes? No, not a kitchen cabinet. Deep, dark despair.
The artist, Ruth Miller Kempster emerged from the dusty bins of history in the Pasadena Museum of History’s spring exhibit, “Something Revealed: California Women Artists Emerge, 1860-1960.” When her parents tried to send her to Vassar so she could become marriage material, Kempster faked a “tiny little nervous breakdown” to get them to send her to art school instead.
The Housewife looks like a modern Vermeer (see: telltale tiles), but instead of exalting domesticity, Kemper challenges it. Everything seems to be in order, yet this young woman looks like she’s on the verge of her own little tiny nervous breakdown. Her husband and child face away from us, becoming just another feature of the background. The young housewife looks totally bored and totally alone.
Luckily for us, feminism has come a long way and your breakup didn’t literally save you from this fate. And yet, this work is a powerful reminder not to give in to the social pressure of coupling up.
5) Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party (1974-79)
If you need some ideas for how to fill all that time you recently freed up, Judy Chicago has a few. Her iconic work, currently installed at the Brooklyn Museum, features 39 place settings, each for a major feminist figure from history. 999 more names decorate the white tile floor beneath the table. From the primordial goddess to Georgia O’Keeffe, everyone who’s anyone is at this party.
How many women out of 1038, do you think, are featured for having a really cute boyfriend? That’s right, zero. Let this work remind you of all the monumental feats you can achieve when you’re not spending hours hunting for a rebound on Hinge. Get out there and do something iconic, and one day you might have your own place at the table.
6) Francesco Clemente, Time (1990)
Despite our best, most feminist intentions, getting over a breakup takes time. Hearts don’t heal overnight—blame it on the human condition. If you could snap your fingers and be over that loser tomorrow, you probably would… right? Maybe you should reconsider. Despite what sadboi British movie montages would have you believe, the few months (or years) after a breakup don’t have to be a soggy blur of tissues and lube. Nor do you have to adopt a manic gym routine or go on a Tinder spree to convince yourself you’re “living your best life.”
Give yourself time to heal—at whatever pace feels natural. Don’t set deadlines, and absolutely do not consult Reddit threads, old Cosmo articles or any other source that tries to set a timeline for getting over a breakup. You might be surprised how much you discover about yourself in the process. As Buddhists and dads like to remind us, it’s the tough times that build character.
This work by Francesco Clemente portrays time as a two-faced creature: sometimes she’s light, other times she’s dark; sometimes she’s open, other times she’s closed; sometimes she’s sunny, other times she’s moody; sometimes she’s awake and ready to take on the world, other times she’s hibernating, gathering strength. Kind of like you, getting over your breakup.
Relax and let yourself feel all the feels. Time might not heal all wounds, but it’ll heal most of them if you just chill and let it work its magic.
7) Hilma af Klint, What a Human Being Is (1910)
While you’re getting over a breakup, it’s important to let yourself be a human, with human needs. And just what is a human being? Hilma af Klint is glad you asked.
In this lovely abstract, the Swedish artist and mystic gives us an intriguing, if a bit hard to unravel, answer to that age-old question. Here, af Klint gives us no straight answers and no straight lines, just curves and loops flowing gently into one another.
The central circle could stand for any number of things—a clock, the cyclical nature of time, continuity, the feminine. A vertical spiral bisects the circle, evoking the feeling of upward momentum, or maybe the masculine. The direction of the yellow and blue brushstrokes towards the top of the canvas recalls the sun rising above the horizon. This is a picture of pure optimism. We’re movin’ on up.
In the center of the composition, we have a heart. Now, I don’t know what the spirits really meant when they dictated this one to Hilma, but my interpretation is that the heart—love, compassion—is central to being a person. It’s a pretty rosy picture of the human experience, but something tells me you need a little dose of positivity right about now. Get yourself a print and hang it in your bedroom for a daily reminder of how glorious this whole “life” thing can be, if we can only see it in the right light.
8) María Berrío, A Universe of One (2018)
Now, let’s bump it up a few orders of magnitude and talk about… the universe. When getting over a breakup, it helps to get deep into something cosmic, like physics or astronomy. Not only will it make your own problems seem miniscule by comparison, but busying your mind with black holes is guaranteed to get your mind off the black hole sucking the joy out of your own life—your ex.
Barríos’s beautiful collage (yes, collage!) shows us that being alone can be powerful and poetic. Breakups give you the opportunity to tend your own garden—so hit the gym, read a good book, volunteer, write that novel you’ve been putting off. Water yourself now and soon you’ll be in full bloom.
9) Tracey Emin, I Can Still Love (2012)
You may be a universe, but you’re not an island. While you’re getting over a breakup, remember to stay connected to the people around you. That’s not to say that you should jump into a relationship with your first Tinder match, but do keep the lines of communication open to the outside world.
Essentially, don’t use your breakup as an excuse to barricade yourself behind a wall of hurt feelings. The situation on the inside might be looking pretty bleak, but there’s a whole world out there—a world of artists making things we can’t even conceive of yet; a world of genuinely nice people one semi-awkward coffee date away from being your friends; and yes, a world of potential suitors. Just because you lost one love doesn’t mean that there’s not another one just around the corner. But you won’t find it in your room watching Netflix. Get out there, babe.
One more thing: don’t limit your idea of love as something reserved for romantic relationships. Like Rachel Whiteread sculptures, love comes in all shapes and sizes. And like Reformation dresses, it’s all around us when you know how to look.
10) Marc Chagall, Walk (1918)
Once you’re feeling fun and flirty again, Chagall is here to remind you of that magical, floaty feeling that comes with the early onset of a crush. You’ll know it when you feel like your whole body is made of butterflies on Adderall.
Getting back into the dating game can be frustrating. You’re still fragile, and the last thing you want to do is sit through an endless parade of depressing first dates. When you get discouraged, just peek at Walk to remember that true love exists—even in the art world.
Text by Katya Lopatko
Images via Pinterest, Vincent Borrelli, Bookseller, @metro_pictures, Artnet News, Judy Chicago, Artsy, Art Basel, Arthive.