Facing Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore bridges generational and geographic divides as contemporary artists respond to the ground-breaking work of Surrealist artists and genderqueer pioneers Claude Cahun (1894–1954) and Marcel Moore (1892–1972). The duo’s photographs from the 1920s and 1930s have made a significant impact in the art world since their rediscovery in the late 1980s. Claude Cahun (b. Lucy Schwob) and Marcel Moore (b. Suzanne Malherbe) were partners in art and in life. They are best known today for their striking collaborative portraits of Claude Cahun, images which complicate our understanding of femininity, masculinity, and in fact challenge binary ways of thinking.
This exhibition positions Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore’s work in dialogue with contemporary artists who also play with language, photographs, performance, film, costume and textile to trouble gender norms. Each one of the artists works to express an expanded range of identities thus contributing to an evolving history of genderqueer visibility. In the context of this exhibition, Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore’s work stands as a marker of the history of these representations. Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore’s practice of self-determination also led to an empowered exploration of a specifically Jewish ethnocultural identity. Their collaborative work, therefore, explores lived experience in the historical context of early 20th century Europe, when categories of representation were in crisis, and visibility itself was dangerous. Their work is the personal as political. Our Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore dialogue with contemporary artists working in Canada and internationally charts a continuum of visibility —by queer artists and of queer subjects—and speaks to an increasingly diverse and public presence that challenges us to consider the ways in which everyday gestures, language, objects, and styles serve to construct and dismantle our sense of identity and belonging.
Facing Claude Cahun & Marcel Moore, installation view, Ottawa Art Gallery, 2019. Photo: Justin Wonnacott