Claude Cahun was a Surrealist artist who, together with her half-sister and life partner Marcel Moore, anticipated discussions on topics of extreme relevance in contemporary society, such as gender and identity. In her practice she used a variety of media: photography, writing, collage, sculpture, disguise, transformation, performance and theatre.
The majority of her works are part of the collections of the Musée d'arts de Nantes (France) and of the Jersey Heritage (UK).
Recent and most relevant exhibitions include: The Milk of Dreams, 59th Venice Biennale (2022); Radical Landscapes, Tate Liverpool, UK (2022); Women and Change, Arken Museum of Modern Art, Ishøj, Denmark (2022); Claude Cahun: Under the Skin, Kunsthal Rotterdam (2022) and Cobra Museum Voor Moderne Kunst, Amsterdam (2020); Alberto Giacometti - André Breton, Surrealist Friendships, Giacometti Institute, Paris (2022); Phantoms of Surrealism, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (2021); Facing Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, Ottawa Art Gallery, Canada (2019); Show Me as I Want to Be Seen, Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco (2019), Dancing with myself, Punta della Dogana, François Pinault Collection, Venice (2018); Women House: A group exhibition of women artists, Monnaie de Paris (2017); We are Completely Free. Women Artists and Surrealism, Museo Picasso Malaga, Spain (2017); Dreamers Awake, White Cube, London (2017); Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask, National Portrait Gallery, London (2017); Modern Photographs from the Thomas Walther Collection, 1909–49, MoMA, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2015); The Art of Claude Cahun: Entre Nous, The Art Institute of Chicago (2012); Claude Cahun, Jeu de Paume, Paris (2011); The Subversion of Images: Surrealism, Photography, Film, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2009), among others.
"Claude Cahun, as a forerunner in rejecting a determined and stable sexuality, may be considered 'queer' avant la lettre. She had a politically and culturally destabilizing body, consciously removed from the function of reproduction and from the realm of economics. Consistently, she turned towards the sterile myth of the androgynous, the image of the fullness of being, the simultaneous presence of the opposing male and female elements.
'Neuter is the only gender that always suits me', wrote Cahun, removing herself from the natural imperfection of a generated body, inclining towards the artistic ambition for the perfection of an ideal body. I am in training, don’t kiss me, we read on Claude’s chest in a self-portrait in which she is dressed as a clown. It is her programmatic manifesto: not identifying with anyone, being in progress and in fieri.
Claude Cahun, named Lucy Renée Mathilde Schwob when born in Nantes on 25 October 1894, was the rebellious daughter of Maurice Schwob, owner and editor of the newspaper Le Phare de la Loire. Suzanne Alberte Eugénie Malherbe, daughter of Albert Hyppolite, was born on 19 July 1892. Like Claude, she too was an artist, adopting the pseudonym Marcel Moore. In 1917, Claude’s father married Suzanne’s mother who had been widowed in 1915 – a strange coincidence that made them sisters as well as lovers. Claude would take literature and philosophy courses at the Sorbonne, while Suzanne would study painting and drawing at the Fine Arts Academy in Nantes until 1920, when they settled in Paris and became inseparable. Lucy Schwob took on a new name, Claude Cahun. In French, Claude is a name suspended between the masculine and feminine genders, while the choice of renaming herself Cahun, as Marcel Duchamp did with Rrose Sélavy, paradoxically reinforced her Jewish origins.
Claude Cahun / Marcel Moore, then, was an all-round artist, who used a blend of stylistic approaches and cannot be circumscribed to photography alone: there are no landscapes, structures, or portraits plain and simple, but a universe populated with symbols. Claude Cahun’s identity is uncertain and inexpressible until it encounters and is welded to that of Marcel Moore, the missing piece needed to complete it. Her writing, photography, and dressing up, nourished by her collaboration with her partner, are the antidote to solitude and madness."
Extract from a text by researcher and curator Silvia Mazzucchelli