The Greatest Bromances in Art History

Rachel Lebowitz
Aug 1, 2017 11:15PM

Although the concept of the “bromance” only entered modern parlance relatively recently—the most famous example of which is the loving relationship between former President Barack Obama and his sidekick, former Vice President Joe Biden—the phenomenon of intimate male friendships is hardly new.

Among artists—as with men of all persuasions, perhaps—these friendships sometimes come with an added dimension of collaboration or mentorship, while admiration and rivalry straddle two sides of the same, thin aisle. What follows are nine pairs of artists, across three centuries, who’ve shown us what true bro-love looks like, pushed each other professionally, and proven that being an artist need not be a lonesome pursuit.

Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat

Tseng Kwong Chi
Warhol and Basquiat Sitting, 1987, 1987
Eric Firestone Gallery

Basquiat grew up idolizing Warhol, who was over 30 years his senior. Brought together by art dealer Bruno Bischofberger, the artists became friends and, in the 1980s, collaborated on paintings such as Untitled (1984–85). The piece features Basquiat’s cartoonish depiction of a vibrant-red human stomach alongside Warhol’s skull and crossbones, which recalls his silkscreen-and-paint “Skulls” series, begun in 1976.

Warhol and Basquiat’s relationship has been described as a symbiotic one: Basquiat relied on Warhol to both bolster his name and help him navigate his newfound celebrity; Warhol, in turn, capitalized on Basquiat’s youthful energy to revitalize his image as an art-world rebel.

Salvador Dalí and Man Ray

Portrait of Salvador Dalí and Man Ray in Paris, by Carl Van Vechten, via Wikimedia Commons.


In a 1934 picture by photographer Carl Van Vechten, Dalí and Ray stare boldly out at the viewer with wide eyes. The image is playful yet tinged with a little of the strangeness that the two artists sought to capture in their works. Ray, an American, emigrated from New York City to Paris in 1921 and became part of the city’s vibrant Dada and Surrealism scenes. Five years later, Dalí visited the French capital for the first time. He officially joined the Surrealists in 1929.

The pair collaborated on artworks, such as the sculpture Portrait of Joella (1933–34). Ray also photographed Dalí and his work. Salvador Dalí’s Mannequin (1938), for instance, depicts a mannequin that Dalí fashioned, rendering his odd creation even odder through Ray’s framing and eerie shadow play.

Dash Snow and Dan Colen

Portrait of Dash Snow and Dan Colen by Danielle Levitt. Courtesy of Gagosian.

Snow was a practicing graffiti artist in 1990s New York who later made informal pieces ranging from autobiographical Polaroids to collages incorporating his own semen. Colen creates objects and paintings out of found images, chewing gum, trash, and caked-on paint intended to resemble bird excrement. Part of a countercultural downtown art scene that also included Ryan McGinley, Snow and Colen had an intimate friendship that was marked by the same liberated irreverence that characterizes each of their artistic practices.

Their raucous substance abuse fused seamlessly into a kind of chaotic artistic collaboration: While drunk and high, they trashed numerous hotel rooms, creating “hamster nests” by shredding phone books and rollicking—sometimes naked—in the debris. After Snow died of an overdose in 2009, Colen quickly got sober. He created an exhibition dedicated to his friend in 2014.

Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969. Photo by Alan, via Flickr.

In 2013, Bacon’s triptych portrait Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) sold at Christie’s for $142.4 million, fetching the highest price ever for a work sold at auction at the time—and emphasizing the bond between the two artists.

Professional rivals as well as friends, Bacon and Freud made their names by insisting upon representational painting when abstraction ruled the art world, with Bacon’s meaty, distorted figures a counterpoint to Freud’s detailed, intimate portraits (a few of which, in turn, depict Bacon). Despite a 13-year age gap, the artists saw each other almost every day for some 25 years. Sadly, their friendship declined due to a distaste for each other’s later work.

Chris Ofili and Peter Doig

British painters Ofili and Doig met in art school and became fast friends. In 2000, Ofili traveled to Trinidad to participate in a painting workshop; he convinced the program to host Doig, too. Over the next several years, both artists returned to the island numerous times and eventually relocated permanently. Ofili and Doig each experienced the artistic rejuvenation that came from a complete change of scenery—as well as keen awareness of their outsider status on the Caribbean island.

Maintaining their close friendship over the years, Doig has grappled with how to avoid exoticizing images of the local population, while Ofili has had to navigate his works’ reception in a culture that attaches deeper meanings to images both local and foreign. While the artists share artistic preoccupations, they insist that their practices are not influenced by each other.

Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia

Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia and Beatrice Wood, 1917, USA, New York, London, National Gallery. Photo by Photo12/UIG, via Getty Images.

In 1911, a 25-year-old Duchamp met Picabia in Paris. They soon became close with one another, as well as with the poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire. The three shared experiences ranging from a night at the theater that was influential for Duchamp’s art-making, to a long car trip to retrieve Picabia’s wife from the eastern Jura Mountains. They also exchanged artistic ideas, through mock, witty derision of each other that anticipated the clever wordplay of Dada. When Duchamp and Picabia both moved to New York later that decade, they became pioneers of the avant-garde (and friends with Man Ray), advancing the anti-art aims of Dada.

Isamu Noguchi and R. Buckminster Fuller

Isamu Noguchi and Buckminster Fuller at Noguchi’s California Scenario, Costa Mesa, CA,  c.1982. ©The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York / Artists Rights  Society [ARS].

Noguchi and Fuller met in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1929, and maintained a close friendship that lasted over half a century. Noguchi admired Fuller so much that he revamped his own studio to mirror Fuller’s design of a popular tavern, and even made a portrait bust of him, created over the course of seven sittings with the architect.

While Noguchi adopted Fuller’s architectural principles for use in his own sculptural work, the two also collaborated on projects including the Dymaxion Car (1932), which sprang from the desire to create a flying automobile, and a never-realized theater for choreographer Martha Graham.

Vincent van Gogh and Émile Bernard

Photo of Émile Bernard and Vincent van Gogh on the banks of the Seine in Asnières, 1886. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Though van Gogh and Bernard were 15 years apart in age, they became friends after meeting in a Paris art class. The Dutchman was a mentor to the younger French artist and writer. In the late 1880s, when van Gogh relocated to the southern countryside to escape Paris’s competitive art world, the two corresponded through letters. In them, van Gogh critiques Bernard’s painting and poetry, and divulges plans for his own future works. Despite artistic disagreements that ended their correspondence, Bernard became a fierce advocate for van Gogh after his death, resulting in the publication of van Gogh’s letters.

Robert Rauschenberg and Jean Tinguely

Jean Tinguely, Homage to New York, 1960. Photo via Flickr.

A giant, self-destructing artwork entitled Homage to New York (1960) was the catalyst for Rauschenberg and Tinguely’s friendship. It was when Swiss artist Tinguely came to New York in 1960 to construct the kinetic sculpture for MoMA that he and Rauschenberg—who created a money-ejecting toaster as part of the piece—first met.

Rauschenberg, who had started making his painted assemblages or “combines” in the mid 1950s, was enamored with Tinguely’s use of technology to create artworks that remained in flux, and soon introduced elements like sound-activated lights into his practice. In the early 1960s, the two artists collaborated on multimedia performances in cities ranging from Los Angeles to Stockholm.

Rachel Lebowitz