In 1919 the German Dada artist Raoul Hausmann dismissed marriage as ‘the projection of rape into law’.
It’s a statement that relishes its own violence: he is limbering up to fight marriage to the death.
A strange mixture of dandy – wild man – provocateur and social engineer – Hausmann believed that the socialist revolution the Dadaists sought couldn’t be attained without a corresponding sexual revolution.
And he lived as he preached.
He was married but was also in a four-year relationship with fellow artist Hannah Höch.
Hausmann and Höch form one of the couples in the Barbican’s Modern Couples exhibition – which shows the freewheeling experimentation of interwar art to be inseparable from even more extravagant experiments in sexuality and coupledom.
The exhibition includes several of the partly whimsical partly grim collages Höch made at this time.
Bobbing her hair and smoking in public Höch was a self-styled ‘new woman’ who shared Hausmann’s carnivalesque contempt for bourgeois morality.
Her Bourgeois Wedding Couple (Quarrel) photomontage from 1919 satirises the married pair as ungainly children.
The bride teeters on the boots of a grown-up woman but she has the body of a mannequin and the face of an overgrown baby whose tantrum is observed by her childlike spouse.
However, the alternative to bourgeois marriage wasn’t obviously promiscuity for Höch in the way it was for Hausmann.
Years later she described being ‘disappointed – crushed – destroyed’ by the double standards of the Dadaist men – who wanted to free women while remaining obdurately patriarchal.