For the first time, an exhibition explores these artists’ friendship and the visual parallels within their distinct work.

LONDON — The two behemoths of 20th century art, Marcel Duchamp, credited with introducing the concept of readymades and radically altering attitudes towards the plastic arts, and Salvador Dalí, perhaps the most famous of the Surrealist painters, will be to many the unlikeliest of bedfellows. Little known, however, is that they enjoyed an intimate and lasting friendship, and the Royal Academy of Arts takes this never-before explored angle as the basis for the exhibition Dalí / Duchamp, aiming to demonstrate “the aesthetic, philosophical and personal links” between them.

Given that the two artists ploughed careers fiercely independently of one another, and evidence of collaboration is fundamentally scant, the exhibition instead draws visual parallels within their work. It is a risky method which presents the art as in ‘dialogue’ — a lateral way of suggesting links and shared themes which, at least on paper, may never have been anything more than coincidental. After all, many of the themes highlighted — identity, sexuality, the body, and object — were commonly explored by their contemporaries throughout the first half of the century.