Dali/Duchamp – Royal Academy of Arts



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Marcel Duchamp, The King and Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes (verso with Paradise: Adam and Eve), 1912 Oil on canvas, 126.4 x 140.3 cm Philadelphia Museum of Art ???? Succession Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2017.

Marcel Duchamp, The King and Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes (verso with Paradise: Adam and Eve), 1912
Oil on canvas, 126.4 x 140.3 cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Copyright  Succession Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2017.

The Dali/Duchamp exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts explores where the creative output of Salvador Dali (1904-1989) and Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) converged during their lifetimes. From many points of view, Dali and Duchamp are an unlikely pair. Born half a generation earlier, Duchamp rejected all association with bourgeois art, even the futurist movement with whom art historians associate him. By contrast, Dali became an inveterate self-publicist and mainstream artist, his works exhibited and sold in galleries worldwide. Although associated with surrealism, the creative group called the surrealists actually rejected Dali during his lifetime, their intellectual nous clashing with his constant courting of popularity.

But associate Dali and Duchamp did. In Room One of the exhibition, we see a photo Dali, Duchamps and friends, Cadaque, a study in Gallic chumminess-by-the-sea that an unknown photographer snapped in 1933. Although differing in creative output, both men were highly individualistic, an individualism that bordered on the eccentric. On display  is the photo of a strong-jawed woman dressed in a twenties’ style coat and hat. The title gives the game away Marcel Duchamp as Rrose Selavy (1921). According to Rebecca Bray, the name “Rrose” sound like “Eros” when spoken aloud, a clue to a common interest of both men. But amid the images and mouldings of genitalia morphing into facial features – or is it the other way around? – a few gems are on display.

In Coffee Mill (1911), we see Duchamp’s method of drawing as if he were laying out technical diagrams. One year later, Duchamp painted The King and Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes (1912), abstract renderings replacing the realistic forms of the earlier painting. According to curator Dawn Ades, this painting marks Duchamp’s departure from drawing. He took up a job as a librarian and for the remainder of his life created his famous “readymades”. Meanwhile, Dali’s painting career was just beginning and in this area we see Cubist Self Portrait (1923). In Room 2, we find a vitrine filled with the reconstructed readymades of  both artists, most notably the urinal that Duchamp signed “R. Mutt, 1917” and displayed in a New York art gallery.

Lobster Telephone (or Aphrodisiac Telephone, 1936) is also here. Following Room 2, the exhibition is a mish-mash of works by both artists, some of them worth seeing. In Room 3, we see Dali’s pair of “companion” paintings, Couple With Their Heads Full of Clouds (1937),  Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach (1938), and the extraordinary Christ of St. John of the Cross (1951). Film clips are on view also, including Dali’s sequence from the movie Spellbound (Alfred Hitchcock, 1945). Visitors exit the exhibition through a reconstruction of Duchamp’s 1938 installation Twelve Hundred Coal Sacks Suspended From the Ceiling Over a Stove. It was, in a word, sweaty. Dali/Duchamp is open until January 3, 2018.

(Mary Phelan, 2017)

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