When Urinal Met Lobster Phone: A Dalí And Duchamp Love-In

Dali / Duchamp, Royal Academy of Arts ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 56 months ago

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When Urinal Met Lobster Phone: A Dalí And Duchamp Love-In Dali / Duchamp, Royal Academy of Arts 4
Dalí's iconic lobster phone makes an appearance. Photo: West Dean College, © Salvador Dalí­, Fundacia Gala-Salvador Dalí

A signed urinal sits next to a telephone with a lobster in place of a receiver. Two iconic artworks that symbolise the art history giants that are Marcel Duchamp and Salvador Dalí.

Works by these two artists have come together for this Royal Academy of Arts exhibition looking at their relationship and how they influenced each other's artworks.

Duchamp's urinal challenged the nature of art. Photography: © Schiavinotto Giuseppe / © Succession Marcel Duchamp

There's plenty of memorabilia from their relationship, including postcard correspondence and a surreal snap of them playing chess against one another, taken from below. It's great to see their painting efforts side by side, so we can see a a rather flatter style in a Dalí portrait next to Duchamp's Cubist effort that pops off the canvas.

A trademark surreal painting by Dalí. © Salvador Dalí, Fundacio³ Gala-Salvador Dalí, DACS 2017

Thankfully there are lots of work here as well to complement the story of the friendship, including Marcel Duchamp's readymades — normal objects such as the famous bottle rack and urinal that have 'converted' into artworks, even though minimal changes have been made to them — or in the case of the bottle rack, none at all.

These works challenge whether an everyday item is a piece of art just because an artist says so — it's the foundation for pretty much all of the conceptual art we now see, and an idea so powerful that it still fuels heated debates today.

A Duchamp cubist effort. © Succession Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2017.

Dalí is represented with some stunning surreal paintings filled with his trademark elongated persons and peppered with strange events. In one work, figures wander in a desert while a giraffe appears to be on fire in the foreground. There's always so much going on that it's worth taking the time to really examine each painting to spot all the references.

A powerful Dalí work of a crucifixion. © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

It's a densely packed exhibition full of treasures from both artists, who created very different works from one another. This show faces a tough balancing act of making sure the story of Dalí and Duchamp's friendship is told while still having lots of their work to captivate us. Thankfully the Royal Academy pulls it off perfectly in this insightful exhibition.  

Another of Duchamp's famous readymades of a bicycle wheel on a stool. © Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada / © Succession Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2017

Dalí / Duchamp is on at Royal Academy of Arts from 7 October to 3 January. Tickets are £15 for adults.

Last Updated 04 October 2017