Ex­hi­bi­tion of the week Dalí / Duchamp

Royal Academy, Pic­cadilly, Lon­don W1 (020-7300 8000, www.roy­ala­cademy.org.uk). Un­til 3 Jan­uary 2018

The Week - - Art Arts -

Sal­vador Dalí and Mar­cel Duchamp make an un­likely pair, said Rachel Camp­bell-john­ston in The Times. While Duchamp is rev­ered as the “in­tel­lec­tual” who more or less sin­gle-hand­edly in­vented con­cep­tual art, and shaped the post­war art world, Dalí is dis­missed as an at­ten­tion­seek­ing “clown” – “as fa­mous for his pos­tur­ing and out­landish pon­tif­i­ca­tions as he was for his paint­ings”. Yet as this new ex­hi­bi­tion at the Royal Academy re­veals, the two artists shared an “im­prob­a­ble” friend­ship, as well as an “ob­ses­sion” with eroti­cism and a “mu­tual de­light in games”. The show brings to­gether “world-fa­mous mas­ter­works” by both artists, as well as many lesser-known pieces, and a wealth of “fas­ci­nat­ing” archival ma­te­rial. The ef­fect is “as riv­et­ing as it is play­ful and fun”, shed­ding in­trigu­ing new light on both men. Though I doubt it will im­prove Dalí’s rep­u­ta­tion, it is a truly “de­light­ful” ex­hi­bi­tion.

The show is “con­vinc­ing, at least in part”, said Michael Glover in The In­de­pen­dent. Among the things we learn is that Dalí and Duchamp ac­tu­ally worked to­gether, col­lab­o­rat­ing on an en­tire room at a Paris sur­re­al­ist ex­hi­bi­tion in 1938. A par­tial re­cre­ation of the dis­play here is a “dimly lit, grotto-like space”, adorned with “clus­ter­ings of coal sacks” hang­ing from the ceil­ing and “sexy man­nequins” propped against the walls. Else­where, we en­counter some strik­ing jux­ta­po­si­tions, in­clud­ing Duchamp’s fa­mous uri­nal sit­ting “cheek­ily” next to Dalí’s equally iconic “lob­ster tele­phone”. Nev­er­the­less, the ex­hibits are “far too crammed” into the show’s small space, and its ar­gu­ments are ham­pered by some “rather silly” at­tempts to high­light the artists’ shared in­ter­ests. In one in­stance, we see por­traits both painted of their fa­thers hang­ing side by side; what this is sup­posed to re­veal about ei­ther man is be­yond me.

This is “not a meet­ing of equals”, said Jonathan Jones in The Guardian. Dalí was a gifted painter, but his work – no­tably the “aw­ful” paint­ing of Christ on the cross seen here – of­ten lapses into “cod sur­re­al­ism” and “sheer kitsch”. His role in this show is ef­fec­tively to pro­vide “light re­lief” from Duchamp’s “sub­lime” but of­ten com­pli­cated ideas. Dalí con­trib­utes “a shot of down to earth hu­mour and Cata­lan ex­u­ber­ance”, while the ex­hi­bi­tion as a whole al­lows us to see a richer, more hu­man Duchamp (he is of­ten re­garded as a “cold philoso­pher”). Ul­ti­mately, this “great” ex­hi­bi­tion is a show “about one man who told ev­ery­one he was a ge­nius, Dalí, and one man, Duchamp, who really was one”.

Jeremy Vine, the Ra­dio 2 pre­sen­ter and host of BBC1’S Eg­gheads, picks his favourite books. His own book, What I Learnt: What My Lis­ten­ers Say and

Why We Should Take No­tice, has re­cently been pub­lished by W&N at £18.99

The Pen­guin Com­plete

Sher­lock Holmes by Sir Arthur Co­nan Doyle (Pen­guin £18.99). I wanted to give my old­est daugh­ter, then aged nine, a taste of de­tec­tive fic­tion. I was look­ing for the best story and I found The Red-headed League in this col­lec­tion. Then we read loads more. A por­trait of Lon­don in the age of the han­som cab.

Jaws by Peter Bench­ley, 1974 (Pan £7). From the very first para­graph, you are drawn in and held by the au­thor’s fab­u­lous sto­ry­telling. The girl killed by the shark; the mayor who wants to keep the beaches open; the sub­plot with the po­lice chief’s wife (which isn’t in the movie, by the way).

Time’s Ar­row by Martin Amis, 1991 (Vin­tage £8.99). This books runs the life of a war crim­i­nal back­wards, start­ing with the mo­ment he re­turns to con­scious­ness in his gar­den and feels a pain in his chest. Be­cause some of his deeds were hor­rific, when he re­lives them in re­verse he ap­pears to be heal­ing peo­ple.

An Of­fi­cer and a Spy by Robert Har­ris, 2013 (Ar­row £7.99). Thank you, Robert, for writ­ing about the Drey­fus case (a long, com­plex French story) in a way that made me tear at the pages to move through the book faster. I read this in the gar­den of my in-laws in Devon one sum­mer. The sun shone and I could hear sheep in the near­est field. A per­fect mem­ory.

Snow Fall­ing on Cedars

by David Guter­son, 1994 (Blooms­bury £8.99). What a soft, mas­ter­ful touch this writer has. The novel is about Kabuo Miyamoto, a Ja­panese Amer­i­can ac­cused of killing Carl Heine, a fish­er­man. It is set in 1954, when there was a lot of post­war, anti-ja­panese feel­ing in the US. Guter­son, who was a teacher, wrote this in his spare time. It took him ten years. He gave up his job when it sold in its mil­lions.

Dalí’s Lob­ster Tele­phone (red) (1938) and Duchamp’s Foun­tain (1917)

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