Huguette Caland: Tête-à-Tête

On view through September 19, 2021, Tête-à-Tête spans Lebanese artist Huguette Caland's five-decade career and features over 100 works on paper and canvas, as well as caftans, sculptures, and notebooks on and in which she wielded her pen. Celebrating Caland’s unconventional and exuberant perspective on both life and art, the exhibition surveys how she used the medium of drawing throughout her career to challenge traditional representations of sexuality, the body, and desire.

At the age of thirty-three, Caland declared her intention to become an artist and enrolled in art courses at the American University of Beirut, where she created some of her earliest compositions. These early works—characterized by thick, assertive lines that render simplified figures and landscapes—laid the foundation for her enduring fascination with bodies and human interconnectedness. In 1970, Caland moved to Paris, while her husband and children remained in Beirut, and delved in earnest into the eroticism that would become integral to her work into the 1970s and 1980s. During her first years in Paris, Caland made delicate line drawings of intertwined body parts, caressing lovers, and topsy-turvy personages. Around 1973, she began her best known body of work, Bribes de corps (Body Bits), a series of more abstracted, but equally sensual renderings of curvaceous forms resembling swollen breasts and vulvas, buttocks and puckered lips. Many of these vibrant and fleshy close-ups of body parts and orifices recall those of friends and lovers, or the weight of the artist’s own body. Even as Caland found new ways to distend and abstract human forms in her drawings, she translated these compositions back onto the body, embellishing the caftans that she wore in defiance of current trends, and tailoring them with the same continuous lines found in her works on paper. These caftans, decorated with embracing arms and X-ray-like renderings of nude bodies, caught the attention of French fashion designer Pierre Cardin, who, from 1978-79, collaborated with Caland on a line of caftans inspired by the artist’s provocative personal style.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, Caland embarked on a series of delicate color pencil drawings that borrowed from the same muted palette as many of the artist’s paintings, while in the 1990s her lines began to take on a life of their own. The 1992 series Homage to Pubic Hair, executed after Caland moved from Paris to Venice, California, is a multicolored exploration of one body part of particular erotic interest. In these drawings, Caland used her signature linework to detail gently curling loops and triangles of hair sprouting from fleshy patchwork figures. The wavering figural geometry in the Homage to Pubic Hair series hearkens back to her 1970s pen drawings, while the washes of bleeding color and increasing abstraction presage her later works from the mid-2000s, when she began to draw inspiration from Palestinian embroidery and the Byzantine aesthetic that permeate Lebanese culture. In these compositions executed on linen, the fluid lines of her early drawings and paintings—as well as their focus on the figure—give way to straighter, grid-like markings suggestive of urban topographies interspersed with curvilinear details invoking fields of flowers and other vegetation. To make these large-scale works, Caland folded and unfolded sections of unstretched canvas, working on one section at a time so that she was unaware of the whole until it was completed. The resulting compositions are rarely continuous or fused, and instead resemble patchwork quilts or bird’s-eye views of composite terrains.

Throughout the works on view in Tête-à-Tête, Caland conveys the vitality of the human body and spirit with her fluid and candid use of the medium of drawing. Indeed it is the drawn line—whether on paper, canvas, sculpture, or cloth—that remains constant across her diverse bodies of work, and it is through line that one observes the themes of mutability, sensuality, and the basic human desire for intimate connection that motivated Caland in her work and life for over five decades.

Organized by Claire Gilman, Chief Curator, with Isabella Kapur, Curatorial Assistant.

Exhibition Materials

Digital Guide

Explore this exhibition further online using our digital guide, available for free as part of the Bloomberg Connects app. By downloading the app on your mobile device, you can discover other exhibition guides, drawing activities, and educational resources.


Past Programs

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