Denmark – Claude Cahun: Under the Skin
Images and text by Birthe Havmøller / Feminine Moments
Claude Cahun: Under huden
runs through 23/7, 2023
at Kunstmuseum Brandts, Odense, Denmark
Yours truly have been to Odense to see the exhibition Claude Cahun: Under huden (/Claude Cahun: Under the Skin) at Brandts Klædefabrik aka Art Museum Brandts. It is an impressive exhibition that spans two large rooms and the period of 1914-1947 telling the story of the french artist duo’s life and their projects. It is interesting that the exhibition tells the “whole” story of the lesbian writer, artist duo and romantic partners Claude Cahun (1894-1954) and Marcel Moor (1892-1972), from their first photographic experiments with staged photography about gender and identity to their books illustrated collages and their anti-war activism during the 2nd World War to the sad end: Claude Cahun dies in 1954 from poor health as she never recovered after the couple’s internment during the 2nd World War, and Moore’s suicide in 1972. With this exhibition, the Museum has come out of the “LGBT+ closet”.
The original format of the poster image of Claude Cahun: Under the Skin.
Claude Cahun: Under the Skin. Exhibition view from the 1st room of the show.
The Jersey Heritage Collections which owns the majority of the artist couple’s archive says that they’ll no longer lend the artists’ (small) original photographs to traveling exhibitions, and therefore this show consists of reproductions only. These are impressively large reproductions (!) Now and then, one of the images is on the point of being too big and is looking somewhat blurred.
Claude Cahun with plaited fringes, 1917. UV-print on dibond. Courtesy of Jersey Heritage Collections.
Claude Cahun in robe with masks attached, c. 1929. UV-print on dibond. Courtesy of Jersey Heritage Collections.
Today, Claude Cahun (born Lucy Schwob) is wellknown in the LGBTQ communities for her photo-based gender experiements. However, one could ask who is the photographer and who is the model? Who is the author of all the photos with Claude Cahun?
Marcel Moore and Claude Cahun must have collaborated most of the time. The exhibition texts focuses on their collaboration in the early 1930s when they made the collages for Claude Cahun’s books and later during the 2nd World War when they were involved in anti-war activism and afterward when they made post-war works such as Claude Cahun as Der Soldat ohne Name (1947) (see image below).
In one of the showcases, I spotted two old newspaper clippings from the European edition of Chicago Tribune, 1929. The articles featured Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore in the Who’s is Who Abroad section. The newspaper writes among other things about Claude Cahun:
‘This year  will see the publication of a volume of (…) poems on which Mlle Schwob [with the pen name Claude Cahun] has long been at work, called Aveux non Avenues or in English Disavowals. The volume will probably be illustrated with some extraordinary photographic studies of the author by the artist Moore [Suzanne Malherbe] her half-sister, who has illustrated her earlier works. ‘
Below are the exhibition’s huge reproductions of Marcel Moore’s illustrations for Aveux non Avenus published in 1930. However, only one is signed by Marcel Moore and the rest are at the moment assumed to be by Claude Cahun.
RIDS Museum has published a beautiful online series of 12 images of the illustrations from Aveux non Avenus … for those who can’t get enough of Cahun & Moore’s collages.
Reproductions of collages from Claude Cahun’s book Aveux non Avenus; illustrated by Marcel Moore, Paris: Editions du Carrefour, 30 May 1930. The book’s English title is Disavowals: Or Cancelled Confessions.
Exhibition view from the show’s 2nd room. Left: Claude Cahun as Der Soldat ohne Name (The soldier without a name) 1947, by Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore. Image Description of ‘Claude Cahun as Der Soldat ohne Name’: Cahun in uniform stands up against a hedge with a cigarette in her mouth and what looks like a small skull in her left hand.
The only real complaint I have with regard to this exhibition is that it is a shame that the curators have chosen to have slide shows running in both exhibition spaces. It makes the first room of the exhibition much darker than it should be and the extra images shown in the slideshow do not add anything of real importance to the exhibition.
But the exhibition is definitely worth a visit. You can look forward to a well-hung and very interesting exhibition. It runs until 23/7 2023.
This traveling exhibition has been created in close collaboration with the COBRA Museum of Modern Art, Holland, and the Jersey Heritage Collections, Jersey, UK. Jersey Heritage Collections manages the legacy and rights of Claude Cahun.