London exhibition to examine surrealism’s influence on design | Art and design

Surrealism often brings to mind the melted clocks of Salvador Dalí or René Magritte’s image of a pipe, placed aptly above the words “this is not a pipe”.

However, despite the success of displays at top galleries in New York and London, the movement’s heydays were between the 1920s and the 1960s.

Now, an exhibition at the Design Museum in west London, Objects of Desire: Surrealism and Design 1924-Today, will attempt to bring it up to date. It will examine surrealism’s influence on the design world and how it revolutionised art and design, from decorative arts and furniture to interiors, fashion, photography and film.

Nearly 350 objects will be on show, including artwork by Dalí, surrealism’s best-known artist. His work will be displayed alongside his contemporaries Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray and Leonora Carrington, as well as pieces by Dior, artist Sarah Lucas, musician Björk and fashion photographer Tim Walker. Nearly a third of objects displayed will be from the last 50 years.

Surrealism was born in the aftermath of the first world war, and took its roots from the Dada and cubist movement. It looked at imaginative, creative and offbeat approaches to the arts.

Talking about his famous pipe painting, The Treachery of Images, Magritte said: “It’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture ‘This is a pipe’, I’d have been lying!”

The exhibition will begin in surrealism’s early days in the 1920s, and look at how it influenced everyday objects. Gae Aulenti’s Tour is part of the display, a glass table supported by four bicycle wheels and set in chrome forks. Sella by brothers Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni will also be shown, a bicycle saddle mounted on a post, fixed to a hemispherical base, blurring the boundary between furniture and art.

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The partnership between Dalí and British poet and art patron Edward James features, which led to the creation of world-famous surrealist interior design pieces. This includes the Mae West Lips sofa, which has been described as the single most important piece of surrealist furniture in the UK.

The exhibition opens on 14 October. Tickets are on sale now, and the exhibition will run until mid-February 2023.

Kathryn Johnson, curator of the exhibition said: “If you think surrealism fizzled out in the 1960s, think again. This exhibition will show that it is still alive and well and that it never really went away.

“The early surrealists were survivors of the first world war and the 1918 influenza pandemic, and their art was in part a reaction to those horrors. Today, in the context of dizzying technological change, war and another global pandemic, surrealism’s spirit feels more alive than ever in contemporary design.”

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