Claude Cahun

Entre Nous: The Art of Claude Cahun
Art Institute of Chicago
February 25–June 3, 2012

In the first exhibition devoted to the artist in the United States, Entre Nous: The Art of Claude Cahun explores the prescient and provocative work of French Surrealist Claude Cahun. Born Lucy Schwob to a family of French Jewish intellectuals and writers, Claude Cahun–who adopted the pseudonym at age 22–is best known for the staged self-portraiture, photomontages, and prose texts she made principally between 1920 and 1940. Rediscovered in the mid-1980s, her work is a noted precursor to feminist explorations of gender and identity politics. In her self-portraits, which she began creating around 1913, Cahun posed in costumes and elaborate make-up as various personae: man and woman, hero and doll, both powerful and vulnerable.

Cahun and her partner and artistic collaborator Suzanne Malherbe, who called herself Marcel Moore (or simply, Moore), allied themselves with eminent Surrealists such as André Breton, Robert Desnos, and Henri Michaux–all pictured in the exhibition–and embraced leftist politics in their work. For their political activity, which included an active and witty campaign of misinformation to combat the Nazi invasion of their home on the Isle of Jersey, Cahun and Moore were arrested and spent a year in solitary confinement during World War II. Drawing attention to and subverting gender norms, propaganda slogans, class, and national identity, Cahun dismantled conventions of self and sexuality. Almost a century after their making, the artist’s innovative photographs and assemblages remain remarkably relevant in their treatment of gender, performance, and identity.

The exhibition presents over 80 photographs and published works by Cahun and Moore, including photomontages from their 1930 collaborative publication Aveux non avenus (Disavowals), and the only surviving object by Cahun, which is in the Art Institute’s permanent collection.

Entre Nous: The Art of Claude Cahun was organized by Jeu de Paume, Paris, and coproduced with La Virreina Centre de la Imatge, Barcelona. Generous support for the Chicago presentation is provided by Helen and Sam Zell and the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. In Chicago, the exhibition is curated by Michal Raz-Russo, Departmental Exhibition Manager, Department of Photography.