Review of 'Dali / Duchamp'

The contrast between Dali and Duchamp is plain to see yet they shared a lot in common as this exhibit at the Royal Academy seeks to point out. Not only were the two artists good friends (Who knew? Ok, I didn't…) but early in their careers they even created very similar pieces as is plain to see in the first room of the exhibit, “Identities”.

It is in their later years that the pair diverged in styles with Dali seeking to distort reality in his art but Duchamp questioning the nature of art itself with pieces such as his famous (ready-made) “Fountain” (looking like a urinal it is actually a hand-made reproduction of urinal making it, perhaps “art”) which is in this exhibit sitting incongruously beside Dali's “Lobster Telephone” in the second room of the exhibit, “The Body and the Object”. They also very much explored the themes of sexuality which are unflinchingly displayed in the exhibit as well which might make those with younger children a bit uncomfortable.

In the “Experimenting with Reality” section we are confronted with the two artist's experimental side with the room dominated by Duchamp's “The Bridge Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)” - A vertical glass panel divided horizontally into two: Bride on the top and Bachelors on the bottom though the only reason you know this is if you read the write up (!). Several of Dali's masterpieces are in this room as well: “Christ of Saint John of the Cross” with it's incredible “abstract realism” in portraying Christ on the cross hovering above men fishing in a lake; “Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach”, an obvious optical illusion yet surrounded by a number of smaller pictures within the picture telling a number of other (often disturbing) stories. A clip from Hitchcock's “Spellbound” plays in the corner featuring Dali's surreal take on the psyche as we are taken into their dreams. Another clip features Duchamp's black and white surrealistic take on film.

The last room, “Playing Games”, features two pieces by Dali and Duchamp that are both art but also a showcase of their works as well as a series of three surreal videos from the artist including “Dizzy Dali Dinner” featuring Bob Hope at a incredibly odd dinner, and another of the artist at work on an island featuring Dali's wife.

After seeing the exhibit I can't say I am completely convinced of the central premise but it is certainly more apparent the two artists had much more in common than you might think. Dali's pieces here are the absolute show-stoppers in terms of pure originality and, as far as I am concerned, artistry. Contrasting “Fountain” and “Lobster Telephone” side by side is as obvious a statement of this as any. Of course, they were seeking different things and so I have a much better appreciation now for Duchamp's work with my previous experience limited pretty much to simply seeing “Fountain”.

As for the show itself, though it is quite small there are some masterpieces on show with insightful write-ups. Certainly worth a visit for fans of either artist or those interested in surrealism…The show runs from now until January 3rd, 2018.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2017-11-06

Royal Academy of Arts

Location: London (England)

Address: Burlington House, Piccadilly London W1J 0BD

Public Transport: TUBE Piccadilly Circus TUBE Green Park

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7300 8000


The Royal Academy of Arts or simply “the Academy” is a venerable institution located only a stones throw from Piccadilly Circus that puts on a range of shows from various artists including one or two major shows a year. It is worth getting on the mailing list for advance notice of upcoming shows. Their magnificent building is accessed off of Piccadilly just opposite Fortnum & Mason - Pass through the courtyard (which often has large works of art on display) then enter the main galleries through the doors. There is a cloakroom on the left but it is quite small so they recommend small items only.