Friday 24 November 2017

Dali Duchamp

Dali Duchamp

 at the Royal Academy, London.

An improbable idea - pitching together the founding father of conceptual art and inventor of the idea of the ready-made, with the silly, exhibitionist, narcissistic showman that was Dali.

I still wanted to see this exhibition, because I basically cannot overcome my fascination with Marcel Duchamp's work.  Salvador Dali's work leaves me cold, even though I find some of his early work mildly interesting.  Jonathan Jones' view of this exhibition in the Guardian is that 'for all the shock value of Dali's vulgarity, this is an exhibition about one man who told everyone he was a genius, Dali, and one man, Duchamp, who really was one... In the end, it is Duchamp's genius that triumphs'. Jones is absolutely right.

When it came to writing this post however, I found that much of what we saw at the Royal Academy I had seen and written about before. I still got a lot of pleasure out of the exhibition, as I still hope that one day I will be able to understand Duchamp's genius, but there did not seem much point in repeating myself. Consequently, this will be a short post just outlining some of the basic themes of the exhibition, and I will include links to other posts I have written about Duchamp's work.

The basic premise of the Royal Academy exhibition is that the two artists were united by a shared humour and scepticism that led them both to challenge conventional views of art and life. They both identified as fellow myth-makers. Dali frequently behaved as an outrageous provocateur in the artistic and the public sphere. He understood the power of celebrity and he anticipated the way artists of recent years have skilfully and brazenly courted publicity and the art market. By the mid-1920's Duchamp's colleagues were convinced that he had given up art altogether in favour of playing chess. In truth, the perpetuation of this myth gave him the space and freedom to try radical new approaches to what art might be.

Salvador Dali, Cubist Self-portrait, 1923

I quite like this one.

Dominating one of the rooms in the exhibition, a cabinet of three-dimensional objects made by both artists. Duchamp's Urinal, Dali's Lobster Telephone, Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel, amongst many other.

Salvador Dali, Las Meninas (stereoscopic work), 1975-76.

In his quest for creating optical illusions, Dali experimented in the 1970s with stereoscopy, a 19th century method for producing the three-dimensional effect of binocular vision and often used in popular entertainment. Painted with great precision, the two almost identical pictures of Las Meninas would merge and spring into relief when seen through a special viewing device. It was a pity we did not have access to such a device in the exhibition.

The second room in the exhibition is dominated by Duchamp's  seminal The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even.

I have had the pleasure of seeing quite a lot of Marcel Duchamp's work:
  • The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns, at the Barbican, one of the most cerebral exhibitions I have ever been to, and still one of my favourites. You can see a post about it here
  • Marcel Duchamp at the Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm. This is probably the most comprehensive collection of the artist's work in the world. You can see the post about it here
  • Fountain. You can read about this ready-made that is cited as the origin of conceptual art, here
  • The exhibition on Approaching Surrealism at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Andros featured some of Duchamp's works. You can see it here
  • Also, individual works here and here .


  1. You make it look very easy with your presentation, but I think this is important to Be something that I think I would never understand
    It seems very complex and extremely broad to me. I look forward to your next post.
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