Dalì / Duchamp at the Royal Academy of Arts
I actually visited this exhibition for coursework research for a university essay I'm writing about Surrealism. I adore my degree, and even still, this was one of the best pieces of research I've had the chance to do!
The exhibition poster features two of the exhibition’s (and in fact, the artists’ themselves) most famous works - the so called ‘readymades’ Dalì’s “Lobster Telephone”, and Duchamp’s infamous “Water-Fountain”. In simpler terms, it was promising big things and it definitely delivered. I expected just to see what Dalì and Duchamp are most famous for - Surrealism - but the exhibition gave a great retrospect on the two artists’ entire oeuvres, showcasing their experiments in Cubism, Futurism and Impressionism as well. For me, although I love to see famous artworks in the flesh, it's the lesser known works, even sometimes the preparatory sketches, which I tend to enjoy most. This exhibition had a great mixture of the two, which meant there was something for everyone.
The variety of the artworks was amazing - I thought I knew a fair amount about Dalì and Duchamp, but I left the exhibition feeling I had learnt a significant amount. I came for the surrealist manifestos and Dalì’s dreamscape like paintings and I saw so much more than I expected. Two works that stuck in my mind were Dalì’s pop art style Madonna, a source of scandal amongst the Surrealists, and a video installation of an amusing and surreal dinner created by the two artists together.
I think I speak for most when I say I am much more familiar with Dalì than I am with Duchamp, and I think given that Dalì is considered the eccentric of the twentieth century art world, it isn't surprising that this is the case. However, this exhibition does a fantastic job as showing the two artists as friends and creative equals. Dalì's dreamy surrealist scenes stick in ones memories, but this exhibition makes evident the genius of Duchamp, even if he is second in terms of fame. Dalì loves to shock with his vulgarity, in works such as The First Days of Spring, but Duchamp aims to make viewers ponder over his work in a very different way. Yes, he may go in for the juvenile jokes such as his defaced Mona Lisa - L.H.O.O.Q, but his alter-ego Rrose Sélavy shows us an intelligent, yet playful side to Duchamp.
The two artists may seem to clash in their different artistic aims, but through intimate portraits of their family lives, it is revealed that the two families were close friends. I enjoyed thoroughly not just seeing the art, but learning about how the lives of these two artists shaped their ideas and how their works interact with one another. I can honestly say this is one of the most successfully curated exhibitions I have seen in a long time, and if you get the chance to go, then I would whole heartedly recommend it.