Salvador Dalí and Marcel Duchamp
At first glance, this pair have about as much in common as a lobster does with a urinal. There is Dalí, Surrealist showman and reactionary painter, and then Duchamp, 17 years his senior, known to us today as the father of conceptual art.
They met in the 1930s through the Surrealists; Dalí then an enthusiastic member and Duchamp a more sporadic presence. Photos of them larking on the beach and playing chess show the personal bond they developed and kept for over 30 years. Regularly crossing paths in the art-worlds of Paris and New York, when apart they exchanged warm letters. From the mid-1950s Duchamp rented a house near Dalí’s home in south-eastern Spain each summer until his death in 1968.
Dalí was, among other things, a commercially successful painter – while Duchamp had rejected painting entirely in favour of conceptual work such as his iconic Fountain ‘readymade’ of 1917. So what did this unlikely pair share? “Humour, the erotic, a sceptical fascination with science and above all a non-conformist spirit,” explains Dawn Ades, co-curator of Dalí / Duchamp, our forthcoming exhibition on the pair. “They shared attitudes to art and life which infuse their work at every turn and bring up unexpected similarities.”
We know they had a mutual artistic admiration and ongoing intellectual exchange, too. Writing in Art News in 1959, for example, Dalí lists 13 reasons why Duchamp’s The King and Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes, 1912 “is worth miles of pseudo-decorative modern painting.” The following year, Duchamp publicly defended his friend by insisting on the inclusion of Dalí’s Madonna, 1958 in an exhibition he was co-curating with André Breton, who – as the official leader of the Surrealists – had expelled Dalí from the movement back in 1939, and was outraged by the painting’s ostensibly religious content. Both works are in the forthcoming exhibition.
This little-known relationship suggests that perhaps we don’t know either of these two mavericks of modern art quite as well as we thought.
Image Rights of Salvador Dalí reserved. Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2016.