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Dan Tobin Smith, A Matter of Perspective (© Dan Tobin Smith)

| Designbest editorial staff


urrealism is largely considered as one of the most influential artistic currents of the twentieth century and Vitra DresignMuseum has decided to pay tribute with the exhibition Objects of Desire: Surrealism and Design 1924 – Today.

Dreamy images, alienated objects, inquisitive hybrids: established by André Bretan with his manifesto in 1924, surrealism has had a crucial influence on design, often transforming everyday objects into works of modern art and changing the canons of graphics, cinema and photography. Just think of Marcel Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel (1913) or Salvador Dalí's Lobster Telephone (1936), but also of the many projects of designers and artists of the time, from Gae Aulenti to Björk, from Achille Castiglioni and Ray Eames, from Giorgio de Chirico to Le Corbusier, from Salvator Dalì to René Magritte and many others.

This anthology of the Vitra Design Museum explores, in three distinct sections, the relationship between surrealism and design, analyzing all the background between parallelisms and continuous references between the two worlds.

It starts with a review of surrealism from the 1920s to the 1950s, where artists of the calibre of René Magritte and Salvator Dalì tried to capture, in the wake of Giorgio de Chirico's metaphysical painting, the mystery hidden in everyday objects, while Meret Oppenheim or Man Ray experimented with new sculptural forms with materials and objects found at random (inspired by Marcel Duchamp's ready-made). The discovery of the narrative potential of objects, in fact, has influenced since the 1930s artists of various levels, including designers and architects: just think of the Parisian apartment designed by Le Corbusier for Carlos de Beistegui, one of the most important collectors of surrealist art, or the interiors of Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century gallery in Manhattan, with biomorphic furniture by Friedrich Kiesler.

The second part of the exhibition introduces us even better to the surrealist thought on the archetypes of everyday life, which undermined the codes of family meaning, until then recognized by society. And so we see the decontextualized objects of Radical Design (such as the Sassi of 1976/68 by Piero Gilardi or the Capitello armchair designed in 1971 by Studio65), the surrealist projects by Man Ray or Roberto Matta created by experimenting with new plastic materials, and unexpected works such as Horse Lamp (2006) by the designer couple Front or Coathangerbrush (1992) by Konstantin Grcic.

Finally, the story closes with a focus on love, eroticism and sexuality, central themes for surrealism that also took root in interior architecture from the second post-war period. Among the most representative projects are those of Italian designer Carlo Mollino, but also works such as Mae West Lips Sofa (1938) by Salvator Dalì, later transformed into the famous Bocca sofa by Studio65 (1970). Significant examples can also be found in the contamination with fashion: one of them was the collaboration in the 1930s between the pioneers Salvador Dalí and the fashion icon Elsa Schiaparelli, who created covers for fashion magazines, advertisements and new motifs for textile companies.

There are also references to what the French ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss called the "wild thought", that is the interest in the archaic, the casual and the irrational, that the surrealists showed by experimenting with materials and techniques and that the artists translated into various forms, from automatic painting to deconstructed design of the eighties: from the classic Chesterfield sofa, loose as if it were an object designed by Dali (Pools&Pouf by Robert Stadler in 2004), to the chandelier by Ingo Maurer Porca Miseria that seems to explode (1994), to the objects of Critical Design.

One thing is certain: all the works on display in this exhibition show that surrealism has pushed artists and designers to question reality and break the rigid patterns and habits linked to functionalism. The design of the last hundred years, in fact, is not only about functionality and technology, but reaches the soul of things and speaks to us - also - dreams, myths, hidden and surreal obsessions.


When: 28 September 2019 - 19 January 2020

Where: Vitra Design Museum, Charles-Eames-Straße 2, 79576 Weil am Rhein, Germany


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