Art Heartbreakers

Using three couples from the art world, we explore art heartbreakers.

Red tinted photo of Paris Street Wall art
Love me or leave me, 30cm x 40cm | Jans Bock-Schroeder 2011

01. Breaking up on the Chinese Wall

Marina Abramovic and Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen) worked and lived together from 1976 to 1988. The couple marked their separation with the famous performance the “Great Wall Walk in China". Abramovic and Ulay made themselves the subject in their performances and actions, the so-called relation work, exploring physical and psychological boundaries as well as the gender-specific distribution of roles.

The great farewell walk | China, 1988

During their art performance “the great farewell walk” on the Great Wall of China in 1988, they walked from opposite sides of the defensive structure to meet exhausted, after 2500 Kilometers to say goodbye to each other.

A few decades later, the extreme intimacy of this all-demanding borderline relationship once again returned to the public eye. During the endurance performance "The Artist is Present" at New York's MoMA in 2010, and to her obvious surprise, he appeared in the chair opposite her. They hadn’t seen each other for 22 years.


Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present | MOMA | 2010

On March 2, 2020, Ulay died in Ljubljana at the age of 76. He will go down in art history as one of the most important art partners of all time, who dared everything for love, art and the philosophical question of what people are and what they are capable of.


02. The short-lived fairy tale of Saint Tropez

The French femme fatale and the most famous playboy of the day seemed to have been made for each other. In 1966, Gunther Sachs, son of a German industrialist, dropped red roses in a dramatic marriage proposal from a helicopter over the villa of Brigitte Bardot in Saint-Tropez. The romantic gesture remains legendary.

Brigitte Bardot + Gunther Sachs| Saint Tropez 1967

The two were married the same year - Gunter Sachs and Brigitte Bardot were the perfect celebrity couple of the late sixties. They transformed St. Tropez into the centre of the international jet set.

Red tinted photo of Paris Street Wall art
Dali, Bardot + Sachs 1968 | Saint Tropez 1967

It is said that Andy Warhol literally ambushed them one night when they were sitting in the bar "Le Gorille" drinking an aperitif. Andy Warhol's portrait of Brigitte Bardot shows the French actress at what was probably her most exciting times.

One year after the flash wedding in Las Vegas and an eventful life between Saint Tropez and Gstaad, the romantic relationship faded and fell apart.

Brigitte Bardot + Gunther Sachs | Saint Tropez 1966

In April 1968, shortly before all of Europe fell for free love, Gunter Sachs filed for divorce. Bardot continued to maintain very friendly relations with Sachs even after their divorce in October 1969.

She described her relationship with Gunther Sachs as a fairy tale: very short-lived - but beautiful. "It was probably clear to us that our amour would not last for all eternity."

In 1974, five years after the divorce from Brigitte Bardot Sachs commissioned Warhol with a portrait of his ex-wife.

Brigitte Bardot by Andy Warhol

Three years of marriage were enough to remain in love until death. Gunter Sachs took his own life in 2011 at the age of 78. He believed to have had Alzheimer's disease. Brigitte Bardot was devastated and told the press: "For me, he wanted only the most beautiful of the beautiful. And I still love him infinitely.”


03. The Bohemian “it couple” of the 1930’s

Lee Miller and Man Ray lived a passionate love affair against the backdrop of the Paris of the 1930s. The 19-year-old, who had given up her modelling career in New York to move to Paris, and the Philadelphia-born photographer became one of Paris’ bohemian It-Couples.

Man Ray Metronome
Lee Miller + Man Ray | Shoot a photo, Paris 1934

Their circle of friends included Dali, Cocteau, Marcel Duchamp, among others.

Miller met Man Ray for the first time in a bar in Paris. Immediately she falls in love with the equally brilliant and jealous Man Ray, who hires her as an assistant and teaches her in his studio. Together, they pioneer a method called solarisation (Sabattier-Effekt), which gives photos a luminous, haunted appearance.

Man Ray encouraged Miller’s interest in photography, giving her a camera and the confidence she needed to take to the streets of Paris and capture its rhythm.

Man Ray Metronome
Lee Miller + Man Ray, Paris 1934

An interesting aspect of their relationship is the shift in the balance of power. In the beginning, he's the powerful one. He's older, a successful artist, he's a man, and it's his studio where she works. But his romantic obsession eventually gives her power over him in return.

Lee completely put her faith in Man Ray, and he indeed did a lot for her, teaching her what she needed to start a career of her own. To find her own identity, however, she then had to break out of that relationship to become herself.

Man Ray Metronome
Surrealist picknick, Lee Miller, Man Ray + friends. Paris 1935

The more Miller flourished, the more the relationship became strained. She was as much caged by her relationship with him as she was stimulated by it. Ray had been begging her to settle down, and become his wife.

In the fall of 1932, Lee Miller separated from Man Ray and returned to New York. The break up sent him into a despair that he expressed through art. And he made some of the most memorable pieces of his career in that period. One of the most famous is the fabulous metronome with the ticking eye on it.

Man Ray Metronome
Man Ray Metronome 1935

The eye was Lee Miller's eye, and the idea behind the piece was that you would wind up the metronome and watch the eye tick back and forth as long as you could stand it. You would then smash it with a hammer, and somehow by smashing it you would exorcise that lost love.

Man Ray and Lee Miller reconciled in 1937 and remained close friends for the rest of their lives.

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