Royal Academy of Arts | Piccadilly
Burlington House, Piccadilly
October 7, 2017–January 3, 2018

Salvador Dalí, Surrealist Object Functioning Symbolically – Gala’s Shoe, 1931/1973, shoe, white marble, photographs, glass, wax, gibbet, matchbox, hair, wooden scraper, 19 x 11 x 4".

The Royal Academy is a step away from Soho, once the sleazy sex epicenter of London. Just when you’re struggling to find anything raunchy in that newly sanitized zone, along comes “Dalí/Duchamp.” This salacious pair make a good team. In the exhibition catalogue, we read Marcel Duchamp explaining that “eroticism was a theme, even an ‘ism.’” As if in hyperbolic response, Salvador Dalí fantasizes about oral sex, gazing at Duchamp as they vacation together near Cadaqués: “I eat Gala and an iron erection stops my copious peeing before it has finished.” Whoa! I just came in to check out the work, and I have to deal with this?

Their shared prurience partly explains the unlikely relationship’s endurance, stimulating subversive realizations of outer-orbit lasciviousness. Duchamp persuades the Moderna Museet to buy Dalí’s The Enigma of William Tell, 1933, and in 1959 is helped by his friend to complete the Landscape study for Étant donnés, 1959. Through a sometimes chronological display of intermixed work the installation demonstrates asynchronous but related investigations. Duchamp and Dalí’s early depictions of their notary fathers hang side by side, suggesting an Oedipal drive to their fierce renunciations of painting later. They deface images of the Mona Lisa, explore public personas as projects, design chess sets and compete against each other, experiment with film and photography, and assemble boxed collections of artwork. Duchamp gives a version of Boîte-en-valise, 1958, to Dalí, who responds in homage with 10 Recipes for Immortality, 1973, an attaché of foldout engravings. Both write extensively, although Duchamp’s terse comments and puns are inversely matched by Dalí’s Surrealist logorrhea.

Our gaze careens around the exhibition’s surfeit of wildly heterogeneous concepts and hallucinatory imagery, from readymade, photo, and magazine cover to painting and construction, suggesting perpetual tactical movements with Dalí and Duchamp playing the art world like a game of chess.

— Mark Harris