The sur­re­ally wild show

Mod­ern masters Dalí and Duchamp to­gether? In one room? With their rep­u­ta­tion?

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - ART - PHILIP HENSHER

This is a sur­pris­ing and un­ex­pected idea for an ex­hi­bi­tion. Sal­vador Dalí and Mar­cel Duchamp were con­tem­po­raries and friends but their art could hardly be more dif­fer­ent. Their present-day rep­u­ta­tion, too – Duchamp’s art of ready­mades, found ob­jects and cryp­tic as­sem­blages fun­da­men­tally rethought what art could do and re­mains at the cen­tre of in­no­va­tion. Dalí, by con­trast, is about as un­fash­ion­able nowa­days as an artist can be: his sur­re­al­ist paint­ings look merely quaint, as do most things that were de­signed to shock our grand­par­ents.

Nev­er­the­less, they had a healthy re­spect for each other, and their work touches in un­ex­pected ways. Their paint­ing styles can be sur­pris­ingly sim­i­lar, par­tic­u­larly in their early pe­ri­ods, be­fore Dalí went hy­per-re­al­ist. Dalí seems to have been one of very few peo­ple who knew about Duchamp’s last ma­jor project, the in­stal­la­tion

Étant Don­nés, dur­ing its long cre­ation – it’s an ex­tra­or­di­nary tableau that you have to go to Philadel­phia to wit­ness, bend­ing down and peer­ing through a key­hole in a wooden door.

The ex­hi­bi­tion tries to make the case that there are more sim­i­lar­i­ties here than we usu­ally think. Some­times this seems plau­si­ble. Among Duchamp’s ‘ready­mades’ – a uri­nal, a bi­cy­cle wheel at­tached to a stool and a bot­tle-rack ex­hib­ited as works of art – Dalí’s com­bi­na­tion of a lob­ster and a tele­phone seems dif­fer­ent in tone but not in tech­nique.

At other points, how­ever, the at­tempted link is less con­vinc­ing. Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bach­e­lors, Even is a huge glass, con­tain­ing two sets of translu­cent im­ages – it looks like noth­ing ever cre­ated be­fore. It’s very odd to com­pare this to a float­ing cru­ci­fix­ion paint­ing by Dalí, on the grounds that the com­po­si­tion is, like the Duchamp, in two sep­a­rate fields.

Dalí is prob­a­bly a bet­ter artist than fash­ion now sug­gests, but to put the high sheen of Christ Of St

John Of The Cross up against the Bride’s fierce and ter­ri­ble clar­ity is to bring out the el­e­ment of kitsch in his paint­ings.

This ex­hi­bi­tion is prob­a­bly best ap­proached as the de­pic­tion of an ami­able dis­agree­ment be­tween two pow­er­ful masters. Though they shared many of the same in­ter­ests in sex­u­al­ity and a cul­ture of cu­rios and minia­ture mu­se­ums, among other things, the art each pro­duced was very dif­fer­ent on the most pro­found level – what it looked like.

Per­haps the sub­ject here is one for a book, or a joint bi­og­ra­phy, rather than an ex­hi­bi­tion. It’s an in­ter­est­ing show nonethe­less, and, of course, it’s quite within sur­re­al­ist prac­tice to yoke two very dif­fer­ent el­e­ments to­gether and see what comes out of it.

Above: The King And Queen Sur­rounded By Swift Nudes, 1912, by Duchamp Far left: Christ Of St John Of The Cross, 1951; Lob­ster Tele­phone, 1938. Left: The First Days Of Spring, 1929, all by Dalí

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