Opening on 14th October, Objects of Desire: Surrealism and Design 1924 – Today will survey the ground-breaking Surrealism movement and how it not only revolutionised art, but also design
Photography: Salvador Dalí and Edward James, Mae West’s Lips sofa, c. 1938. Royal Pavilion & Museums Trust, Brighton and Hove. © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala- Salvador Dalí, DACS 2022
Words by Joe Lloyd
Few artistic movements have had such an enduring hold as Surrealism. Exploding into being after the destruction of World War One, it attempted to free the unconscious mind. The dreaming world would be brought into physical existence.
Surrealist art abounds with everyday objects, generally placed in bizarre and unexpected places: take Salvador Dalí’s Lobster Telephone (1936), or his Mae West Lips Sofa (1937). But far less attention has been paid to the wider impact Surrealism had on the evolution of modern design.
Objects of Desire: Surrealism and Design 1924 – Today, at London’s Design Museum, should serve to correct this. Originally displayed at Vitra Design Museum in 2019-2020, it brings Surrealist artworks by Dalí, Dora Maar, Leonora Carrington and others into dialogue with furniture, interior design and fashion.
Photography: Sarah Lucas, Cigarette Tits [Idealized Smokers Chest II], 1999. Chair, balls, cigarettes, bra, © Sarah Lucas
It will be the first time in a major UK exhibition that Surrealism’s impact on the design world will be told up to the present day. Surrealism was arguably the first art movement to become a wider trend in design. It infiltrated everything from dressmaking to graphic design.
Some exhibits will uncover the designers who worked alongside the artists, including Méret Oppenheim, whose fur-covered teacup, saucer and spoon (1936) and bird-footed Traccia table (1939) remain among the most famous products of the original movement. An original Mae West Lips Sofa and Lobster Phones will be on display.
It will also cast an eye on how Surrealism has infiltrated more recent design, from Pedro Friedeberg’s Hand Chair (c. 1962) to Gae Aulenti’s Tour (1993), a glass table raised on four bicycle wheels. The exhibition will uncover the fashion house Schiaparelli’s long and continuing relationship with Surrealism, and look at how the movement informs contemporary designers as such Mary Katrantzou, Iris van Herpen and Yasmina Atta.
Photography: Man Ray, Ingres’s Violin (Le Violon d’Ingres), 1924. © Man Ray 2015 Trust/DACS, London 2022
Furthermore, Objects of Desire will look at how contemporary artists such as Roberto Matta and Sarah Lucas have drawn on Surrealist design in their own varied practices.
Gathering nearly 350 items from a century of Surrealism, Objects of Desire is likely to be the blockbuster design exhibition of the autumn.
Objects of Desire: Surrealism and Design 1924-Today runs from 14 October 2022 — 19 February 2023 at London’s Design Museum