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Iconic Art World Buddies Of The Last Century
Art world heroes and their partners in crime
Art Girls Jungle 21 Jun 2019

From pool parties to rooftop loungin’ to summer weddings, ‘tis the season to hang with your BFFs. And while artists have a bit of a loner reputation, guess what: they have their BFFs just like the rest of us.
In the art world, we like to label famous and successful artists as geniuses. It’s a loaded word that brings up images of Einstein locked up in his laboratory, scribbling crazy and incomprehensible theories about the universe. The crucial detail? He’s *always* alone.
It’s a nice picture that makes for great Hollywood movies, but it doesn’t hold up so well against reality. Creative genius—just like any other genius—obviously takes talent, but great ideas aren’t born in a vacuum.
In fact, most of art history’s virtuosos were very plugged into the social current of their times. From the impressionists in Paris to the ab-ex bros in NYC, many of the last century’s major art movements arose from collectives. Artists lived and worked side-by-side with other artists and intellectuals, trading ideas and techniques. That’s how art history’s greatest masterpieces were born: through collaboration, not isolation.
Of course, if we tried to credit every single person who contributed to an artwork, we’d be looking at some really long wall text. Something tells me that Louvre would never go for it—it would majorly mess up the aesthetic flow of exhibitions.
What we can do is take some time to celebrate some of these iconic artist friendship moments. As you peruse these stories, remember this cheesy but true nugget of wisdom: friendship really is what life (and art) is all about.
A quick word on art world friendships
To build an art world career, sometimes it feels like you have to step on a lot of toes (and climb on some heads). But in reality, kindness goes a lot further than scheming. Next time you’re tempted to pull an Andy from The Devil Wears Prada and career cock block a fellow gallerina to get ahead, remember that iconic scene at the end of the movie. The one in the limo where Andy realizes she’s become a total sell-out, just like Miranda. You don’t have to melodramatically toss your phone in a fountain, but you do occasionally need to take a look in the mirror.
Even if you do make it to the top of the mountain (or the MoMA) with your scheming antics, will it be worth it if everyone hates you? Our advice: focus on forming real bonds with people instead of being blinded by your 5-year plan. It might be a longer path, but when you arrive where you’re going, you’ll be surrounded by friends ready to cheers to your success.
And if you need more convincing, these 10 iconic artist friendship moments should do the trick.
 
1) Raphael and Dürer
raphael three standing men
Raphael, Three Standing Men (1514-16). Drawing sent to to Dürer.
They never met IRL, but these Renaissance masters had an iconic long-distance artist friendship way before the Internet. Their meet-cute? Both famous artists had prints circulating all over Europe. It’s the fifteenth-century version of stalking your art crush on IG until you finally get up the courage to slide into the DMs.
It was Dürer who made the first move. The German painter and printmaker sent Raphael a a self-portrait in gouache—a Renaissance selfie. Unfortunately, the picture has been lost. We can only hope that it involved Dürer doing duckface.
We do still have several drawings that Raphael sent to Dürer in reponse, including Three Standing Men. Trading sketches allowed to artists to learn from each other’s techniques, since drawings preserve gestural details that get lost in prints. We typically think of Italian and Northern Renaissance as two separate movements, but here we have proof that that artists from each camp influenced each other. In the process, they built a friendship—and, yes, got to show off a little. What’s an artist friendship without a little dick-measuring contest? All in good fun.
 
2) Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse
joy of life
Matisse, The Joy of Life (1906).
Picasso and Matisse might be the ultimate example of opposites attracting. Although their approaches clash in many ways, side by side, they do a pretty good job of summing up the diverse, contradictory world of modern art.
They didn’t appreciate each other’s work at first, but over the years, confusion evolved into understanding, appreciation and respect. Over the course of their long careers, they kept tabs on each other. Both Picasso and Matisse made major changes to some of their biggest projects, like The Joy of Life and The Young Ladies of Avignon, after revelations inspired by the other’s work.
Don’t get the wrong idea: they didn’t always get along. But even though they competed fiercely, they never lost their respect for one another. “Only one person has the right to criticize me. That is Picasso,” Matisse once said.
With egos and reputations this big, the glue holding this artist friendship together was a healthy dose of respect. If you’re going to have artist friends, they better be worthy adversaries. In their case, the recipe worked. The two stayed close until the end of their lives, and Matisse even entrusted Picasso with his beloved doves.
 
3) Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon
three-studies-of-lucien-freud-by-francis-bacon
Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969).
Unlike Picasso and Matisse, these two giants of British modernism ended up enemies. Maybe they were just too close for comfort—sharing the same turf cramped their style. While everyone around them was busy chucking their feelings on canvas, Freud and Bacon were hardcore loyalists. To figurative art—and to each other.
For twenty-five years after their first meeting, they saw each other nearly every day. Freud’s second wife can confirm: she had Bacon for dinner “nearly every night for more or less my whole marriage to Lucian.”
Their approaches to the human form couldn’t have been more different—Freud was Michelangelo coming down from molly, Bacon a kid who got trapped in a funhouse and couldn’t stop having clown nightmares. But ultimately, their egos got too big to share the same art world niche. Their mutual respect and admiration turned sour, and jealousy got the best of this duo.
Freud and Bacon had a huge falling out, but not before their friendship gave birth to one of the most expensive artworks ever sold. Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) went for $142.4 million at a 2013 Christie’s auction.
 
4) Salvador Dalí and Marcel Duchamp
dali duchamp chess
If someone wrote a book about Dalí and Duchamp’s friendship, it might be titled The Grandmaster and the Gimmick Artist. Or: The Chess Aficionado and the Mustachioed Clown. Or: The Urinal and the Theory of Relativity. Pick your fave.
Their public personas have absolutely nothing in common—Dalí was as ridiculous and exhibitionist as Duchamp was private and thoughtful. But both shared a quick wit and an offbeat sense of humor, whether they showed it by signing urinals or dining with their pet ocelots. They also both loved chess.
Even as Duchamp retired from the art world and Dalí dominated it, the two remained lifelong friends, supporting each other’s work publically. In 1959, Dalí defended Duchamp’s The King and Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes in Art News. The year after, Duchamp insisted that Dalí’s Madonna was included in a exhibit he was curating with André Breton, who had kicked Dalí out of the surrealist club. Now that’s how you stan for your BFF.
 
5) Yayoi Kusama and Eva Hesse
Left-Yayoi-Kusama-reclining-on-Accumulation-No.-2-1962-1962-Image-via-seattleartmuseumorg-Right-Eva-Hesse-in-her-studio-Image-via-pinterestcom
We could go on all day about the famous bromances of art history, but now, it’s time for the ladies. As a young woman, Yayoi Kusama was a big fan of writing letters. She sent them to, among other people, the presidents of France and the US. She also sent one to Georgia O’Keeffe, asking the successful painter for advice on life and art. The letter read: “Would you kindly show me the way to approach this life?” O’Keeffe wrote back, urging the young, misunderstood Japanese artist to move to the States. Kusama landed in America in 1975 with 60 kimonos and 2000 paintings.
In New York, Kusama befriended another major woman artist of her time. She and Eva Hesse shared a studio space in New York, along with Donald Judd. Kusama and Hesse became close and had a lot of admiration for each other’s work.
 
6) Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses
Christmas_Homecoming_web
Norman Rockwell, Christmas Homecoming (1948).
After making a name for himself in New York as an illustrator, Norman Rockwell fled to upstate Vermont for some Walden-style R&R. There, the city sophisticate met a charming old lady named Grandma Moses, a self-taught artist who launched her painting career at the ripe old age of 70+. She quickly made up for lost time; her folksy paintings were selling like Kylie lip kits in a Russian Sephora.
the-rainbow-1961.jpg!Large
Grandma Moses, The Rainbow (1961).
It was a friendship cuter than those pictures of baby animals snuggling that you can’t resist sending in your sibling group chats. Maybe similar artistic sensibilities strengthened bond: both painted simple, sentimental scenes of daily life that appealed to the common denominator of the American heart.
In 1948, Rockwell paid tribute to Grandma Moses by painting her into Christmas Homecoming, which first appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post.
 
7) Helen Frankenthaler and Grace Hartigan
hartiganfrankenthaler1
Frankenthaler and Hartigan first bonded as fellow members of a minority: women of ab-ex. The 1950s New York art world was a very macho place—if you didn’t have a penis, you couldn’t paint. Or so the logic went. Frankenthaler and Hartigan stood up to the sexism long before the women’s movement became a thing.
At the time, women artists were still featured in art shows mainly for their connections with men: “Artists: Man and Wife” was a real show put on by Sidney Janis Gallery in 1949. Sisters in the struggle, Hartigan and Frankenthaler stayed close throughout their entire lives.
 
8) Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo
Fig.4 Leonora Carrington, La chasse, 1942. © Estate of Leonora Carrington _ ARS, NY and DACS, London 2018
Leonora Carrington, La Chasse (1942).
Two of the leading women surrealists, Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo first crossed paths in Paris. Pretty soon, the outbreak of World War II forced both artists—and their friendship—to migrate across the Atlantic. Reunited in sunny Mexico City, Leonora and Remedios hung out constantly. Some of their favorite activities? Just girly things like cooking, writing spells, pranking their guests and exploring alchemy, astrology, and other supernatural topics.
Take one look at their work and you’ll see why both of these ladies are utter witchy woman goals. Today, as a new wave of feminism crashes over the resurgence of astrology, crystals and other mystical/occult practices, Carrington and Varo should be the poster children for the strong, witchy woman. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have leading my full moon sacred women’s circle, can you?
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Remedios Varo, Papilla Estelar (Star Maker) (1958).
Unlike the dominant image of strong masculinity, the female power recognizes strength in numbers. A witchy woman needs her cover, after all. Again, Carrington and Varo set the ultimate example with the strength of their friendship. Their friendship shaped both women profoundly. Both wrote each other into their stories and novels, and Carrington once said, “Remedios’ presence in Mexico changed my life.”
 
9) Frida Kahlo and Lola Álvarez Bravo
frida kahlo by lola alvarez bravo
Frida Kahlo by Lola Álvarez Bravo, 1944.
Another match made in Mexico, Frida Kahlo and Lola Álvarez Bravo bonded over their shared love for their country. Bravo, one of Mexico’s earliest women photographers, is famous for capturing daily life in post-revolutionary Mexico. In this way, the spark that lit their friendship was partly political. While Kahlo’s best known work is, of course, her emotional self-portraits, she was also an ardent patriot, involved in leftist political causes.
Bravo and Kahlo first met through the arty circles of Mexico and stayed close throughout their lives. Bravo made many pictures of Kahlo and even started making a film starring her. Unfortunately, Kahlo’s health went downhill before she could finish it. Still, Kahlo’s respect for the photographer is obvious: she even attached one of Bravo’s photographs to her diary.
 
10) Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat
basquiat warhol ge
Basquiat and Warhol, Keep Frozen (General Electric) (1985).
One of the most famous urban legends of our time, this is a tale of extremes. In life and in art, Warhol and Basquiat appeared like night and day. The king of Pop and the charismatic outsider. The starfucker-turned-star and the young enfant terrible, hungry for recognition. Even their work speaks of opposites: Warhol’s clean lines and polished surfaces and the chaos of Basquiat’s overflowing graffiti. But looks can be deceiving—look at Marilyn long enough and you’ll start to see a mess worthy of Basquiat. It was this tension of opposite magnetic forces—attraction and repulsion—that brought these two artists together and ultimately drove them apart.
The two met in New York when Jean-Michel was a young, controversial graffiti-turned-“real” artist and Warhol was already the sovereign of downtown. Some argue that their friendship was fueled by a mutual desire to gain something from the other person. Warhol needed Basquiat’s youth and contrarian spirit, while Basquiat fed on from Warhol’s fame. Whatever they gained, the two had a real bond. From breakfast to parties, Basquiat appears in Warhol’s journal pretty much on the daily.
Soon, the friendship spilled over to the canvas to mixed results. The collab followed a pretty straight-forward method: Warhol started by screen-printing a painting using his signature method, then Basquiat would work his magic. Unfortunately, the reviews were less than kind. Under the strain of critical failure, the friendship fell apart. Soon, Basquiat slipped into addiction and died at only 26. You can be sure there was a connection, but it isn’t fair to blame Warhol for his friend’s tragedy. If he could have saved the young genius, he surely would have.
 
Text by Katya Lopatko
Images via Royal Academy, WikiArt, Art & criticism by Eric Wayne, Royal Academy of Art, Widewalls, Norman Rockwell Museum, Syracuse University Libraries, Scalar, Mercado Libre México, AnOther Magazine, Christie’s.

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