Dali & Duchamp at The RA –

On entering the first room I was made aware of Duchamp’s paintings, none of which I’d seen before. Striking, unusual paintings throughout the show, in particular his piece; ‘The King and Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes’ 1912. Fragmented, cubist style. Abstract, but with movement and composition representing a series of shapely figures. This exhibition made me appreciate the real skill that goes into both artist’s work. A platform to showcase their varied masterpieces. Innovative, pushing the boundaries beyond their generation.

Dali’s bizarre painterly worlds act as a counterpart to his character. Strange, elusive, eccentric, beautifully twisted. Impossible to be replicated by any other painter. Dali’s brand, his identity became an interest to me on reflection of the show- how do any contemporary artists / painters define themselves within a completely saturated field?

One of Dali’s pieces in particular, ‘Living Still Life’, 1956 had me stood for minutes, unable to look away from the mismatched imagery on the surface. Despite going for traditional subject matter, he throws still life on it’s head in true Salvador style. He creates an elusive composition of random objects and suggests a passing of time within it. The depth and perspective was mesmerising to me. He’d captured such intense realism, the ripples in the sea, the table cloth, the transparency of the glass, the suggested movement of the flying objects. Painted during a period Dali called ‘Nuclear Mysticism’, which is defined by theories that attempt to show the relationships between quantum physics and the conscious mind. Dali stages a profound meaning in his painting practice through the study of science and surrealism.

Interestingly, The Royal Academy as an institution, which promotes academia within the arts, is choosing to display a selection of anti-establishment pieces by two strong, avant-garde figures. Both artists made revolutionary work, which came under a plethora of movements; Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism, Dadaism.

The works curated within this show were highly inspirational for my practice- Dali as an individual demonstrates such vastly contemporary works for his time. Duchamp remodelled mundane, readymade items, into discernible art objects. He chose to cast out work which primarily appeals to the eye (retinal art) in favour of work which serves the mind. This was compelling, considering the adept nature and beauty of his painting practice. Leads me to question the importance of aesthetic or concept to a viewer. Can I hold the viewer’s gaze, as well as provoking them to think about the work?

The works chosen were overwhelmingly impressive and as an artist, I found myself perplexed as to how to strengthen my own practice on reflection of such grandeur within art. Both artists clearly had strong desires to break away from constraints held by the society they lived in.

Contemporary artists like myself, are constantly questioning our relevance within society today, how as 21st century artists can we present new ideas, what are our art problems and how can we ignite recognition through our imagery and ideals. How can we cause a stir in the art world? As a Fine Art MA student, I am ultimately hoping to help define a new movement of painters, developing a matured, reactionary language for my practice. It is from influential figures such a Dali and Duchamp that I feel it is important to heed advice, and the strategies to do so.


Abigail Moffat