Even if I missed Dali in Girona (not my fault), I got the opportunity to see him in London. And not only him, but also my loved one, Duchamp. The exhibition Dali/Duchamp at the Royal Academy is where surrealism meets dadaism. My two favorite art movements.

Dali is socialised with surrealism and Duchamp with dadaism, for me, the latter has always been a part of surrealism. Therefore, it is not surprising they put them both together in one space, drawing parallels in their artistic practices. They have both lived in their own world of dreams, always challenging the conventions in art and experimenting with life. The exhibition is divided in 4 sections/chapters, introducing these ventures.

When you step into the first room with the subtle white-greyish walls, you would never in a million years guess that in front of you the two of the greatest 20th century artists provocateurs have their rendezvous.

An intimate story of their connectedness is told through their artworks and various objects, such as personal photos, letters, family portraits and notes. You can also adore the early works of Dali, for which you would never say he is the artist behind them.

Salvador Dali, ‘The Lane to Port Lligat’

It is amazing to see similar ideas of both maestros placed side by side, with the inserts by the incredible Man Ray even. And the whole wall dedicated to the famous Duchamp’s LHOOQ, whose many faces of it are presented with the articles and journals on the subject.

And they didn’t forget about the beautiful Rrose Selavy, Duchamp’s alter ego.

Man Ray, ‘Rrose Selavy’

As a visitor you quickly find out that as well Dali and Duchamp have been challenging the rules of painting with illusory collages and ready mades. And also experimenting with cubism.

Regardless the amazing artworks in the first room, I do have some curatorial remarks. For me, the wall texts were not placed correctly, as you have to be jumping from one wall to another to get the visual representation. And what disrupted me the most was the feeling of not knowing where in the room to start your visit. I feel that in this kind of exhibiton that is following the themes/sections, one should be encouraged to follow the story line. Or do they want you to figure it out for yourself? If so, they did not succeed.

However, the second room is a complete opposite of the first light coloured one. The dark grey tones of the walls conjure up an ominous feeling. But would you believe me, if I tell you that this room explores the artists’ fascination with eroticism, from the carnal pleasure of which the tactile ready mades were born. The path, though which surrealists followed is shown here with the bodily associations.

And in a huge cabinet in the middle of the room, the famous ready mades are exhibited. All at one place. It is nice to see them all together, however, it might be a bit more ‘productive’ if they would be scattered through the whole room. But then, the security would be the problem, I guess. All in all, you can definitely sense the quote, challenging the concept of art: ‘It is not important if the artist made the item with his own hands. It is important that he chose it and gave it a different significance.’ And with that feeling, it was even more interesting to listen to the older ladies heatedly arguing about why these objects are not art…

On the other walls, more intriguing artworks reign, displaying the obsessions even more.

Then you see something familiar on the wall in front of you. And you get very high hopes. At least I do every time I see a detail of Duchamp’s ‘Etant Donnes‘. This voyeuristic artwork that I have been craving to see in person my whole life, unfortunatelly cannot travel, so is presented here only by studies and related works. Duchamp worked on it in secret during his life and a little known fact is, that Dali was actually one of the confidants that helped him with this project. Never knew that interesting story.

Marcel Duchamp, ‘Etant Donnes’

Duchamp, as well as Dali, were both fascinated by male and female sexuality, which came through in various, sometimes (sort of) horrific ways.

Then the third room opens in light again with some of the more obvious surrealistic works (paintings and videos). Again, both artists pursued optical effects through ambiguities of perception, creating personal iconographies. Their reasoning was, that the modern art was too detached from religion, philosophy and morality, which ought to be its primary function. So they had to make their own. They were playing with reality in a way, where a single image could be read in many ways.

Sometimes I feel a bit concerned about these artistic geniuses. I don’t know if I would want to know what was going on in their heads, but it does trully fascinate me.

Another main work in this room is Duchamp’s ‘The Large Glass‘, a reconstruction by Richard Hamilton. I don’t want to go into the complete theory, but in short, it represents a sexual encounter powered through mechanical operations. Which might be a regular thing in the majority of exhibited works.

The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) 1915-23, reconstruction by Richard Hamilton 1965-6, lower panel remade 1985 by Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968
Marcel Duchamp, ‘The Large Glass’

The small fourth room is almost hidden at the back of the big space. It is dark again and sums up the whole exhibition with the dive into the personal and shows why the two artists are the icons of art.

I can’t forget to mention the amazing optical illusions with mirrors, placed all throughout the rooms. I couldn’t figure out if it was intentional or not to mess with the visitor’s perception of space or just a way of exhibiting works in the cabinets. The mirrors do make the rooms look bigger and it is an interesting curatorial decision, however, it could potentially be dangerous (I should know, I almost bumped into one). Were they maybe trying to play with stereoscopy, like our two artists?

All in all, I was impressed by the choice of presented artworks, which came from all over the world and the majority of them from private collections, therefore, this is a must see exhibition. You never know when these works will be together again. The selection is great, showing the (before) hidden parallels in the practices of Dali and Duchamp and opens a completely different view on their art. They should teach more of that in the art schools.


  1. featured image: personal archive
  2. Dali, S. (1922) The Lane to Port Lligat. Available from: https://www.wikiart.org/en/salvador-dali/the-lane-to-port-lligat-with-view-of-cap-creus
  3. Duchamp, M. (1919) LHOOQ. Available from: http://pictify.saatchigallery.com/494669/marcel-duchamp-lhooq-1919
  4. Halsman, P. (1954) Dali Mona Lisa. Available from: https://www.dalipaintings.com/self-portrait-mona-lisa.jsp
  5. Ray, M. (1920) Rrose Selavy. Available from: http://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/8084/meet-rrose-selavy-marcel-duchamp-s-female-alter-eg
  6. Dali, S. (1929) The First Days of Spring. Available from: http://artpaintingartist.org/the-first-days-of-spring-by-salvador-dali/
  7. Duchamp, M. (1912) The King and Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes. Available from: http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/kuspit/kuspit3-17-06-15.asp
  8. Dali, S. (1923) Cubist Self-portrait. Available from: http://www.fineartgiclee.org/art-reproduction/Cubist_Self-Portrate_1922-23_large.php
  9. Dali, S. (1932) Untitled, Erotic Scene. Available from: https://salvadordalilounge.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/0331-erotic-drawing-1932/
  10. Dali, S. (1928) Antropomorphic Beach. Available from: https://salvadordalilounge.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/0220-anthropomorphic-beach-1928/
  11. Dali, S. (1936) Lobster Phone. Available from: https://londonist.com/london/art-and-photography/urinal-meet-lobster-phone-dali-and-duchamp-face-off-at-the-royal-academy
  12. Duchamp, M. (1917) The Fountain. Available from: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-duchamps-urinal-changed-art-forever
  13. Duchamp, M. (1951) Bicycle Wheel. Available from: https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/marcel-duchamp-bicycle-wheel-new-york-1951-third-version-after-lost-original-of-1913
  14. Duchamp, M. (1947) Please Touch. Available from: https://www.wikiart.org/en/marcel-duchamp/please-touch-cover-design-for-le-surr%C3%A9alisme-1947
  15. Dali, S. (1932) Gala’s Shoe. Available from: https://www.artsy.net/article/denisebirkhofer-shoe-fetish
  16. Duchamp, M. (1919) Air de Paris. Available from: http://www.artnet.com/artists/marcel-duchamp/air-de-paris-TKPFIQvGy6vt05P56Deu8w2
  17. Duchamp, M. (1914) Bottle Rack. Available from: http://www.toutfait.com/issues/volume2/issue_4/interviews/md_jean/popup_1.html
  18. Duchamp, M. (1950) Female Fig Leaf. Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/duchamp-female-fig-leaf-t07279
  19. Dali, S. (1934) Meditation on the Harp. Available from: http://onesurrealistaday.com/post/164362911/sunday-dal%C3%AD-meditation-on-the-harp-1934-an
  20. Dali, S. (1933) Study for The Enigma of William Tell. Available from: http://hrk46-dpe05-04.blogspot.co.uk/
  21. Dali, S. (1931) William Tell and Gradiva. Available from: https://salvadordalilounge.wordpress.com/2014/12/06/0315-william-tell-and-gradiva-1931/
  22. Duchamp, M, (1968) Selected Details after Courbet. Available from: https://www.wikiart.org/en/marcel-duchamp/selected-details-after-courbet-1968
  23. Duchamp, M, (1968) Selected Details after Cranach. Available from: https://www.wikiart.org/en/marcel-duchamp/selected-details-after-cranach-1968
  24. Duchamp, M. (1946-66) Etant Donnes. Available from: http://www.dreamideamachine.com/en/?p=16663
  25. Dali, S. (1934) The Spectre of Sex-appeal. Available from: https://www.salvador-dali.org/en/museums/dali-theatre-museum-in-figueres/the-collection/143/the-spectre-of-sex-appeal
  26. Dali, S. (1932) Catalan Bread. Available from: http://thedali.org/technical-study-six-oils/
  27. Dali, S. (1936) Couple with Their Heads Full of Clouds. Available from: https://www.wikiart.org/en/salvador-dali/a-couple-with-their-heads-full-of-clouds
  28. Dali, S. (1936) Morphological Echo. Available from: https://www.wikiart.org/en/salvador-dali/morphological-echo
  29. Duchamp, M. (1913/1964) Three Standard Stoppages. Available from: https://www.wikiart.org/en/salvador-dali/morphological-echo
  30. Dali, S. (1951) Christ of Saint John of the Cross. Available from: https://www.dalipaintings.com/christ-of-saint-john-of-the-cross.jsp
  31. Dali, S. (1972) Skull. Available from: https://www.moillusions.com/dalis-anamorphic-artworks/
  32. Dali, S. (1938) Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach. Available from: https://www.dalipaintings.com/apparition-of-face-and-fruit-dish-on-a-beach.jsp
  33. Dali, S. (1951) Exploding Raphaelesque Head. Available from: http://www.abs-art.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=593
  34. Duchamp, M. (1915/1965) The Large Glass. Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/duchamp-the-bride-stripped-bare-by-her-bachelors-even-the-large-glass-t02011

(all downloaded 4 December 2017)

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