Exhibition of the week Dalí / Duchamp
Royal Academy, Piccadilly, London W1 (020-7300 8000, www.royalacademy.org.uk). Until 3 January 2018
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)