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Stranger Than Fiction

LISTEN: Michelle Tea, Eileen Myles, and Jill Soloway discuss "writing their lives."

Award winning writers Michelle Tea (Valencia, Mermaid in Chelsea Creek), Eileen Myles (Chelsea Girls, Cool for You), and Emmy-nominated Jill Soloway (Six-Feet Under, Transparent) all pull from personal narrative in their work—albeit in different ways and to varying degrees. Listen in as they discuss "writing their lives"—and in particular, their female lives and voices—and creating work between memoir and fiction.

Artist Josh Greene's current exhibition at The CJM, Bound to Be Held: A Book Show, also includes Greene's project Read by Famous—which seeks donated books from famous or well-established individuals. Tea, Myles, and Soloway all donated to Read by Famous. In a talk on Thursday, May 7, the three writers came full circle to discuss literature, making it in Hollywood, and more.

Want more? Listen to the full podcast here

Installation view of Bound to Be Held: A Book Show with the Read by Famous submissions by Jill Soloway, Michelle Tea, and Eileen Myles. 

READ: Below is the transcript of the recording.

Matt Sussman (MS): Since all of you have pulled from your lives for your writing in various ways—whether through memoir or with Transparent—I wanted to hear more about what's it like writing your life, and how you go about doing that... and if you start feeling like "The Michelle" that's in the book is sort of another character, or what's that like to see that play out in another form.

Jill Soloway (JS): Well it's funny because, for me, I think the question is what's it like to not write your life. Because that's what's hard—I would never how to do that. Everybody I write is some version on me, even on Transparent, everybody, they're all sort of... I have to be enough inside the voice I'm writing to feel it, to feel something. But the funny part is in Hollywood, you know you turn in a script and then you get feedback or whatever, and I used to get the thing all the time like "Your protagonist is so unlikable!" (Audience laughs.) And the weird thing I got a lot, which is so weird for realizing and finding out my parent was trans all this time, was I used to constantly be told all the time that I had castrating protagonists... isn't that crazy? That all my women are castrating—that's just how gross Hollywood is... like a woman who actually speaks is told that she's castrating. But I guess all my protagonists were going around and making it hard for men to stay the subject their own lives perhaps, by maybe seeing them or something...

Michelle Tea (MT): Can you imagine, producers are like, "These characters are too misogynistic?"

JS: Well... we're slowly but surely turning the planet, but it hasn't happened yetwe're like a year into the revolution. It's just barely happening, it's only starting. That's, I think, the weird thing and it happens with Transparent all the time too—where the three kids on Transparent seem like people I would love and I'm constantly told that they are horrible people and who would like these people. 

MT: Wow. 

JS: Yeah, it's weird and I think, especially when you write women, if anybody other than a woman is reading it they arelike I had someone tell me about Afternoon Delight that it got some bad reviews from some guys. And this writer from The New York Times, Karina Chicano, told me that a lot of male critics review whether they would want to date the protagonist.

Eileen Myles (EM): Ew.

MT: Gross.

JS: They don't even realize it but they are trying to figure out if they are attracted to her and what she's doing. And they can't help but review her attractiveness to them. I know it's sickening. It's so sickening. I'm sorry to get so upset. I really do feel like it's changing.

EM: You just like sexually abused the room. 

JS: I'm sorry guys, it's so gross. That's why they really have to do something about the ratio of male reviewers in so many newspapers. Something you wrote about Chris Kraus' work and just this feeling ofI don't know if you wrote it or if it was in Kraus' book I Love Dickusing your own life, using your real name, it's feminist. There's something about that that's feminist. I don't know what, maybe you can explain. (Audience laughs.) But it's so despised by people. It's so like if you didn't create it, then you didn't actually work hard, and if you didn't fictionalize you didn't do the work.

EM: But it's still about a woman. I mean, it's like if a guy did it, it's really kind of slacker and cool. 

MT: They're like nominated for the Pulitzer Prize or something. Quite literally.

EM: Yeah! I mean like Mike Kelly and all those guys doing kind of weird emo work.

JS: What is it, like misogyny or something? 

MT: Or what about My Struggle? Like, "Hi I'm a dude and I'm going to write an eight volume memoir." Oh my God! I mean I think I actually like his writing very much, but just the entitlement! Can you imagine if I wrote eight memoirs and called it My Struggle?

ALL: Please do!

EM: It's an amazing thought that a human being can think about their existence in great detail and talk about it for hundreds of pagesI'm like we've been doing that for twenty or thirty years!

MT: Everyone around me has been doing that for like...

EM: Part of it is that we're not still not human.

MT: It really is that, yeah.

EM: I mean, when I published Chelsea Girls, I remember some dude reviewing it in a San Francisco paper, and he said "I don't know, I'm having a hard time just reading about her lesbian daily life." I was like how is that different than David Wojnarowicz' gay daily life? 

JS: Because there are dicks in it!

EM: Right! You know. And the thing that's so weird is that I'm lying too. It's like I've been writing about Eileen Myles for thirty or forty years. But it's not exactly Eileen. I just think why do I have to make up a character's name, like I have a character, I'll use her. (Audience laughs.) But it's always a little off, she's a little smarter than Eileen or a little stupider, or has a little worse sex or a little better sex. I feel like its been kind of blended, like all these years. I think it's true, and then you start to leave her a little bit. Like you've written fiction, you wrote A Rose of No Man's Land.

MT: Yeah.

JS: But that felt so much like it was real though. I remember reading that on the airplane and falling in love with you. I think I emailed you from the airplane. Sometimes when you read a book on the airplane, you fall in love with the writer even more.

MT: It's such a special place to read.

JS: I was crying and I was like "I'm in love with Michelle Tea! I need to tell her when the plane lands." (Laughs.)

EM: Yeah, that book twinkles. It just twinkles with life, because it's everything you do but it's like a little jeweled version of it. I love that book so much.

MT: Thank you guys. I was so terrified, it was the first time I wasn't writing memoir. And I was so scared that I was creating a world that wouldn't be believable, which is something that I never had to think about before. Because I was like well, it's what happened, and if you think it's not believable, I don't know what to say because that's what happened. But this, I was like "Oh, God." I was so aware of what would the light look like, what would the air smell like...I got really obsessive with it, you know, I probably didn't need to get that obsessive, but maybe it's good I did.

MS: That's an interesting problem to have it seems. If you've already been doing it, right, when you've been working on a memoir, or it comes more naturally when you're working on a memoir, but when you switch over into fiction and you start second guessing your decisions more, or there's maybe different stakes involved... I'm wondering if you could talk about that more. 
MT: I think that a big impetus for me writing a memoir was that I wanted to tell the truth, like I want it to be authentic, I want it to tell the truth. Because I felt like my particular experience, I hadn't been published a lot—it felt very political, it felt very meaningful. And so I had this sort of reality fetish and so then moving into fiction, I kind of brought that with me a little bit. And since then, I've realized—I mean, you still need to make things believable but I actually don't need to—I'm also creating this world because I'm saying its like it and I'm the writer. I don't have to
someone's not going to read it and be like "I don't know, the quality of light seems weird in that scene. I'm having a hard time believing that this would actually happen." (Audience laughs.) I mean, it's fiction! You can actually have ridiculous things happen. And, ideally, if it's compelling in some way, the reader will follow you. So, I've kind of loosened up a little bit with that.

EM: See, I just never—people always review my books and say it's memoir. And I have never written a memoir. I write fiction! It's absolutely not—maybe part of it is how I feel about life—like it's a dream. And so I feel like I don't remember, I mean I sort of remember that night when this happened or that happened, but I don't entirely remember; but also, I was drunk. (Audience laughs.) So at a certain point I stop making up what could have happened and maybe I'm remembering. But I just feel as a person I'm an unreliable narrator. (Audience laughs.) 

MT: That's so great!

EM: So as a writer, I'm absolutely that. And my new book is about my pit bull Rosie, who died in 2006. And so, it's really not that much of a stretch to go over here and be my dog, you know. Because I feel I was always a bit out of my own borders, my own boundaries. So suddenly, it's sort of like somebody that I looked at for a long time—instead of that being me that I looked at—it's my dog that I looked at, or my dog that looked at me. It's like the camera just moved to a whole other character, but it doesn't feel that different at all. And she remembers the world differently, so, it's great.

And for course, she is my dead alcoholic father. You know, you have an animal—(audience laughs)—and they're never just your cat, you know, it's Napolean or... And my pitbull, when I got Rosie, I just looked in her eyes—and my dad died when I was 11, and he's kind of a fetish in my whole dream story—and when I looked in the dog's eyes, I was like "It's dad!" And he would totally come back as my dog and hang out for twenty years or whatever. So it was just so easy to then write a chapter "My Father came again as a dog," and then start talking about how people come back as dogs, and who dogs are, and what creation is, and suddenly, you're just in this whole...

MT: Woah!

EM: I mean you've writtenI just finished your book that goes into fantasy. 

MT: Yeah.

EM: Because that's what we do! I mean, pajama parties were the beginning of writing! You'd stay up all night, the first drug was like sleeplessness. And all those kind of weird things you would do—you would hold each other's chests in and hyperventilate, and all those weird ways... and then you'd tell storiesweird stories, and make stuff up and everything. And I feel like, that's what writing is, and after doing it for a long time, you start to have permission to get really weird.

MT: Yeah, it's really true.

EM: I've earned it now.

MT: Yeah, totally.

EM: It was always there, it just never really opened the door. 

MT: That's so exciting. And you just finished that book? I'm so excited to read that.

EM: Yeah, I just finished that book so I feel very high on it. And I call it a memoir.


MT: Yes, finally! Eileen finally wrote a memoir! (Audience laughs.) Yeah!

Your (Literary) Crush's Crush

LISTEN: As the writers dish on their literary crushes.

Literary crushes—we all have them. There's a particular kind of attraction that can develop between a reader and a book, with the writer or a character within itHave you ever wondered who writers crush on? Award winning writers Michelle Tea (Valencia, Mermaid in Chelsea Creek), Eileen Myles (Chelsea Girls, Cool for You), and Emmy-nominated Jill Soloway (Six-Feet Under, Transparent) dish about their own literary crushes.

Artist Josh Greene's current exhibition at The CJM, Bound to Be Held: A Book Show, also includes Greene's project Read by Famous—which seeks donated books from famous or well-established individuals: Tea, Myles, and Soloway all donated to Read by Famous. In a talk on Thursday, May 7, the three writers came full circle to discuss literature, literary crushes, making it in Hollywood, and more.

Want more? Listen to the full podcast here

Installation view of Bound to Be Held: A Book Showwith the Read by Famous submissions by Jill Soloway, Michelle Tea, and Eileen Myles.

READ: Below is the transcript of the recording.

Matt Sussman (MS): Your histories make me think about this idea of literary crushes. And, you just become so infatuated with a character or an author, you're reading everything by them or you start writing stories, or fan fiction, or whatever. Who are your literary crushes?

Michelle Tea (MT): Well obviously Eileen, yeah. And I think Maggie Nelson. It's really fun when you discover somebody and they've already written a bunch, and so then you get to really go crazy. I think that Maggie had written a few things, and I'd heard her name a lot, but I just hadn't read her stuff yet. And then I read Jane: A Murder. And I was like woah... it's like I called in sick for my life to finish that book. I read that in one sitting. I just couldn't believe it, I thought it was so smart and gripping and amazing. And then I got to read The Red Parts: A Memoir and the Bluets. And, her new book, The Argonautsis incredible. 

And who else... Oh, reading Joan Didion really late, like really lateI'm 44 and I just started reading Joan Didion but there's so much to read, so that's really exciting. It's kind of like how I felt when I was young, when I would really get in a band, like when I was a teenager you know, and I would get into some band that had broken up ten years before but they were new to me, so you could get all of their albums and just get really obsessed with them, it was fun.

MS: Did you

Jill Soloway (JS): Are we skippingI feel like this is The Dating Game, I'm bachelor number 2 today.

Eileen Myles (EM): We can skip the order. (Laughs.)

MS:  You should feel free to jump in whenever you want.

JS: I just recently fell into a literary crush related to you as Chris Kraus: I just found that book I Love Dick. Do you guys know what that is? It's amazing. It's great to read on a plane, because you're like I'm reading a book called I Love Dick. And it's actually about that feeling of writing towards an idea of a person whoworshipping them allows you to find your voice. It's sort of about seeing God and this kind of projection of your voice onto this imaginary consumer of what you're writing. It made me want to write. It made me want to write to her. I met her last weekend. I emailed Chris Kraus. And then I read thisthere's this guy who does this weekly email letter and he wrote something like "If you're the kind of person who thinks that if you only meet the person who wrote the book that you're crazy about, that you'll be happy, that you'll never be happy." Or something like that.

MT: What!

MS: What? 

JS: Like you read a book and you're like, "I have to be friends with this person!" Instead of just, "I can enjoy this book." And, that was the way I felt about I Love DickI had to hang out with Chris Kraus.

MT:  But that's how you make friends! (Laughs.)

JS: Yes, I guess so. Yeah.

EM: See, I feel like my literary crushes are people I never met, some of them are. Like um, because they're people who have shown me how to write. Like Henry Miller because he was so angry and complaining and working class. I feel like my literaryit either has to do with being female or being of a certain class. Because I think I needed to know that I could write, and that I could have permission, and that some of my feelings... Like Henry Miller started Tropic of Capricorn with "I didn't ask to be born," you know. And I just grew up thinking only spoiled kids said that, and that you couldn't... I didn't realize that that thought could really go someplace. Like you could start with a really horrendous thought, like "I didn't ask to be born," and then talk about how shitty your life was, and that you could get more and more and more power and energy from that, you know. Or Violette Leduc has a book called La Bâtardewhich is my favorite book in the world

MT: Oh, it's the greatest book. 

EM: And she starts it off with how much she hates her mother. She's sitting in the backyard with her mother, and her mother's old and she's middle age herself, and it's just like, "Ugh, I'm with this horrible woman." (Laughs.) And she just begins it with how much she hated her mother, and then she just goes through her whole female life. The writers that I think of who were literary crushes were people who just started out with these bolts of anger that were so just like, they were like the car, they just started driving down the road. And I thought, "Oh! If you could just be..."it was like punk writing, I just thought"if you could be really pissed off and that could drive a book, then I can write." I just got so much from those people. 

MT: That's awesome.

"Read by Famous," Donated by Another

LISTEN: Hear how the trio approached donating to Read by Famous, and coming full circle in this talk.

Connect the dots from Michelle Tea's Valencia to Eileen Myles' Chelsea Girls to Gilles Deleuze's Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty & Venus in Furs, and you'll find artist Josh Greene. Greene's project Read by Famous seeks donated books
"the actual books that these people owned and read"from famous or well-established individuals such as Gavin Newsom and Philip Seymour Hoffman. A selection of books from Read by Famous is currently on view at The CJM in Greene's exhibition Bound to Be Held: A Book Show.

A particular trio of book donors in the collectionaward-winning writers Michelle Tea (Valencia, Mermaid in Chelsea Creek), Eileen Myles (Chelsea Girls, Cool for You), and Emmy-nominated Jill Soloway (Six-Feet Under, Transparent)gave one another's books to the project, and in the process, recommended one another for it. Jill contributed Michelle's book, Michelle gave Eileen's book, and Eileen donated a book an author that is no longer living, thereby completing the chain.

In a talk on Thursday, May 7, the three writers came full circle to discuss literature, feminism, making it in Hollywood, and more. In this segment, the speakers converse about the difficulty of letting go of a well-loved book, on books as art, and how their selections show their influence on one another's writing.

Want more? Listen to the full podcast here

Installation view of Bound to Be Held: A Book Show
with the Read by Famous submissions by Jill Soloway, Michelle
Tea, and Eileen Myles.

READ: Below is the transcript of the recording.

Matt Sussman (MS): I wanted to start just by asking you about your selections for Read by Famous, just because I think it's both serendipitous that you wound up selecting each other in a way. But also, I think the selection points the ways in which you've influenced each other's work and gotten to know each other as well. 

Michelle Tea (MT): So I was asked to donate a book that I'd read that meant something to me and write a little inscription in it. And, it's really hard to let go of books, like I find it really really hard, so I was trying to cheat a little bit, maybe donate a book I didn't love that much or something I was going to sell or something I had doubles of, you know. And I saw Eileen Myles'the copy of her book Chelsea Girlsand it's easily the book that has influenced me more than any book in the world. And, it felt like this dare, like do I go all in this or do I not? Am I just fucking wimp out and send like, I don't know. So, I did sort of cheat a little bit because I donated my copy but I have Ali Liebegott's copy at my house. And I don't think she realizes that... So I felt like I can always keep Ali's copy because I bought it for her a long time ago. So I feel like I could pretend like it's mine. So I did cheat a little bit. It just felt like it would be a beautiful thing to give, because it looks like it's my favorite book. I mean there's no cover, it's like all beat up, it's dog eared, there's coffee spilled on it, I've read it and reread it a trillion times. So I just decided to go all the way. 

Eileen Myles (EM): Didn't you feel likeI felt like being asked to give away a book that I love, that I had written all over, was like so painful in a certain way. And I felt like, I always think of painters and what's so weird, even though they get all this money when they sell their art, they always have to let go of their work. And I've talked to painters about it and they say it's really, you've lived in the studio with it for so long and you've put so much of yourself in it and then it leaves and it's gonethough in exchange you get all this dough, you know. And I felt like there was something like that about giving up a book that I really... like I gave upmy book was Masochism by Deleuze. And I'm not like a big theory head but every year, every few years, I find a theory book that is so exciting and brings up thing's I've thought about but never in that wayand it just like got me so going and influenced the next book and everything. And Masochism was like thatit's like exactly like what you were saying about something you really care about, can you give it away? Like that's sort of Masochism, in a way. But, it's also like a plot's like if you give up something really valuable, then what happens? You know, it creates this hole, and then something else happens. And part of what I learned from this book was to make stories out of things, like shit that happens basically, like the stuff that comes along, like what do you do with this. And I'm the kind of writer, and I don't want to sayI think we're the kind of writers that do that. You know, it's like following the breadcrumbs and making that into the art. And I felt like that was the masochistic road, and I'm very excited about it. So I just covered that book.

So the way I cheated was that I got my assistant to copy every fucking note. I thought, "This is double fetish! I'm giving it up and then I'm keeping it!" And it's in this other handwriting and stuff, and it was just so funny, like I paid her to painstakingly like write every little underline.

MT: She did a reproduction. (Laughs).

EM: Yeah! And then I thought it was another piece of art.

MS: So wait, the version in the show, is that the facsimile? 

EM: No, I was honest, I gave the real thing. Yeah.

JS: Yeah, I felt similarly kind of angry about the request. 

MT: Like, how dare you!

JS: Well now I feel like I get why I did it, because we're here. Like this has been a great week and trip. I got to meet Eileen, I already knew you. So like, it all adds up to something good, but at the time I was upset. And I have a bunch of Valencias actually. 

MT: Oh good, I was going to give you one.

JS: I have so many of them, I probably bought twenty over the course of my life. 

MT: Oh, thanks!

JS: Well because I was working on that film, on the chapter in the film, so everybody who worked on it, I wanted them to read itand I always give it as a gift. And yeah, it's one of those books know, both of you guys really inspired me to just sort of beto have a voice. And that the sort of just like bold brash grabbing on to the protagonism and just kind of like throwing shit all over the place with your voice and not giving a fuck. That was what Valencia did to me when I read it. I feel like sometimes you write books imagining certain people are going to read themor like trying to be like Michelle Tea. That's kind of how I found my writer's voice, by trying to be like you. So that's why the book mattered.

MT: Thank you. That's really sweet.

Artist Cybele Lyle Talks Tzedakah

Cybele Lyle, (de)(re)construct(ion)(ing), 2015. 
Acrylic, paint, screen print, 5 x 10 3/4 x 7 3/4 in. 
Photo by Johnna Arnold.

In conjunction with The 2015 Dorothy Saxe Invitational: Tzedakah Box, The CJM invites participating artists to give insightful chats in the gallery. Artists will discuss their work in the larger context of craft, design, and how the invitation to create work on the theme of tzedakah affected their process. Get to know artist Cybele Lyle, who will be speaking at The CJM on Friday, May 8 from 12:30–1pm.

1. What inspired you about taking this traditional Jewish object and creating a new work of art?
It was a totally new way of working for me, which allowed me to approach my own practice from a new perspective. I'm not used to making functional objects or sculpture and so I was forced to shift my approach from the beginning. That's always inspiring as well as challenging.

2. What approach did you take to creating a work of art inspired by a tzedakah box (ie: conceptual, functional)?
My approach was both functional and conceptual. For some reason I really wanted my tzedakah box to be usable
perhaps that became a structure for me to hold onto for an object I otherwise knew very little about. But I also needed it to connect to my practice and expand my own thinking about my work and that part was primarily conceptual.

3. In six words, describe your creative practice.
explorative, personal, emotional, architectural, queer, nature

4. In your own words, what is a tzedakah box.
I see the box as a point of action that begins before it and ends after it. It's really a moment that concretizes something much bigger about exchange and opening up to the world around us.

5. How did your involvement in The 2015 Dorothy Saxe Invitational come about?
That's a mystery to me - I received an invitation in the mail which I was happy to accept.

6. What are you working on now?
I have a few shows coming up - next week at Adjunct Positions in Los Angeles and later in the year in Kansas City and San Francisco. I'm working towards those shows and I'm also just working in a more general, everyday way on expanding my work.

Installation view of The 2015 Dorothy Saxe Invitational: 
Tzedakah Box. Photo by Stephanie Smith.

About the Author

Cybele holds an MFA from Hunter College in New York City, where she received the Tony Smith Award upon graduating. She received a BFA in printmaking in 2001 from California College of the Arts. Cybele has been an artist in residence at the Bemis Center, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Ox-Bow, and Project 387. She was selected as a finalist for the 2012 SECA award and was recently a Kala Fellow in Berkeley. Cybele has shown throughout the bay area, including, among others, shows at Queen's Nails, the Lab, the San Francisco Arts Commission, Royal Nonesuch Gallery and Et al. She has also shown throughout the country, most recently as part of a decade MFA exhibition with Hunter College in New York. Cybele has a studio at Real Time & Space in Oakland and is represented by Et al. Gallery in San Francisco.

Great minds (don’t) think alike

Installation view of In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art
Lindsey White and Ron Lynch. Photo by Johnna Arnold.

Creativity comes in pairs in The CJM’s exhibition series In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art. Following exhibitions with Lindsey White and Ron Lynch, and Helena Keefe and Jessica Prentice, Anthony Discenza and Peter Straub are the third duo to showcase their collaboration. Each duo had, and will have, different roles in the creative process; for instance, photographer Lindsey White took pictures of the subject—Ron Lynch—while Lynch employed his comedic skills, creating an audio ‘tour’ of the exhibition that was available to visitors.

Researching for the exhibition series, I read Sarah Lewis’ NYT review on Joshua Wolf Shenk’s Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs. I thought about the implications of a collaborative practice—not only on the pair’s creativity, but also on their individual practices. As much as a partnership allows for growth, it also requires some negotiations, and sometimes, a redefinition of power ratios. This is precisely what Lewis concludes in her review: “Just when we think an innovation came from an individual, we see that it was, in fact, created for and with someone else—the other half of an often hidden pair.” This called me to reflect on one artists’ pair, painters Sonia and Robert Delaunay, whose collaboration flourished in the early twentieth century—but at a cost to one.

Sonia and Robert Delaunay, 1923. 
Accessed on:

French Jewish artist Sonia Delaunay-Terk is best known for her colorful abstract paintings and textiles, though her work encompassed many genres and mediums. While her husband’s work, French painter Robert Delaunay, has been extensively shown and written about during his lifetime and after his death in 1941, Sonia has remained for many decades an ignored figure in art history.[1] The couple married in 1910 and  Sonia Terk adopted her husband’s last name. Together they participated in the Orphism movement derived from Cubism and Fauvism: creating abstract paintings for the sake of aesthetic pleasure rather than representation or symbols.

Both Sonia and Robert started their art practice with painting, but while Robert still painted figurative works—such as his series of Eiffel Tower—, Sonia experimented with abstraction early on. She had no hesitation to bring her art closer to life, most notably through applied arts and design. Throughout the 1910s and the interwar period, the Delaunays created multiple paintings, works on paper, murals—and entire rooms—with the vivid colors of abstraction. It is fascinating to see the influence and inspiration that went both ways: Sonia’s geometric shapes influencing Robert’s paintings (Homage to Bleriot, 1913), and Robert’s figurative style on her own paintings (Flamenco Singers, 1916), and perhaps inspiring Sonia to design clothes—dressing figures in abstraction. Even, Ballets Russes’ founder Serge Diaghilev asked her to design the costumes for his production of Cléôpatre in 1918. The title-role costume, today in LACMA’s collection, is like Sonia’s most eye-catching paintings: a bright multi-colored (with a dominant yellow) simple dress made of silk and wool, with lines of gold and rainbows, sequins and mirrors. The costume’s patterns are abstract, yet it gives the character of Cleopatra her majesty and mother-goddess warmth.

Robert Delaunay, Homage to Bleriot, 1914.                Sonia Delaunay, Flamenco Singers, 1916.
     Accessed on                     Accessed on

In a 1978 interview with BOMB magazine, Sonia, then 90 years old, spoke about her creative relationship with Robert in these terms: “No [there was no rivalry between us]. Not from the point of view of painting. We asked each other for advice;” but also sharing that: “He talked, but I realized.” Her very honest words conjure a period where women’s rights were very limited; Sonia actually said in the same interview “I despise the word [feminism]!”

Despite the generational gap, I would hope that Sonia herself had not qualified her practice as a “realization” of what her husband “talked” about. Even if they did both contribute to each other’s process, they were two distinct minds that came together in life and in art. Recent exhibitions have explored Sonia’s oeuvre as one of the greatest contributions to modern art as well as to the applied and decorative arts. I am hoping to see more work done on the pair’s collaborative practice, and its implications. Comparison can only do well to Sonia—who definitely seems to be “the other half”: the hidden and probably the greatest mind.

[1] Though recently, her work has been the focus of several exhibitions such as Color Moves: Art & Fashion by Sonia Delaunay (2011) at the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York and Sonia Delaunay: Les couleurs de l’abstraction [The Colors of Abstraction] (2014) at Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris, and which opens this month at Tate Modern, London.


About the Author

Pierre-François Galpin is Assistant Curator at The CJM, currently working on upcoming In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art exhibitions. Prior, he worked at the Centre Pompidou (Paris) and Independent Curators International (New York), among other institutions. His writing has been published on different media, including The Exhibitionist, Art Practical, and exhibitions catalogues.