In the 1920s, a new way of looking at the world started to emerge in the world of artists, the surrealist was born, and a century later, the Design Museum is full of the strange contorted shapes that emerged from that moment of genesis.

It was a rebellion against the strictly ordered Edwardian world, but also one that rejoiced in the latest materials, the increasing ability of magazines to print high-quality photos and liberalisation in society in general.

Sex and sexiness were the order of the day. Oh, and death. Quite a lot of death.

So in this exhibition at the Design Museum one moment you’re looking at sensual furniture, turn around and spot sadomasochism, and then around the corner, skulls reused for household decorative objects.

As an exhibition, it’s been cleverly laid out in thematic spaces with even the rooms colour coded to thrill the senses. From huge furniture for the super-rich in their super large homes to small objects, that price aside, almost anyone could own.

Rich red velvet draws you into the sensual, where blue is closer to the sort of art a modern art collector would have, and into the green room of horrors. If you’ve seen the movie Beetlejuice, a surreal movie in itself, then the last room in the exhibition will look like it’s come right out of the Deetz’s art collection.

Is it me, or is the idea of a coathanger having a clothes brush included less surreal than actually rather clever?

A green carpet with footprints turns out to be inspired by the wet footprints left in the bathroom by Edward James’ wife when she stepped out of the bath. He later commissioned another one with paw prints from his dog, who he described as a more faithful friend.

A cluster of disney character soft toys can, if you look carefully, be a sofa — or maybe an amorphous blob of horror?

Away from the furniture and art, there are a lot of archival documents and photos,  and while there are a number of explanatory boards that explain the thinking behind surrealist art, this exhibition works better simply as a feast for the eyes.

There are some nice touches here — from the mirrors in the entrance that reflect the names of the exhibition to the slight curl on the display cards that are backed with soft fabric. There are some stools to sit on in the exhibition, or are they part of the exhibition? That’s the delight of surrealism, you’re never entirely sure what you’re looking at.

The exhibition, Objects of Desire: Surrealism and Design 1924 – Today is at the Design Museum until mid-February 2023 and tickets should be booked in advance from here.

  • Adult: £18.50
  • Children (5-15): £9.25
  • Concessions: £14
  • National Art Pass: £9.25
  • Family (1+3): £30
  • Family (2+3): £42


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One comment
  1. Sheila Page says:

    Worth mentioning the Schiaparelli dresses, as well, although I wasn’t convinced they were surreal.

    No need to book, although the ticket desk is so slow and incompetent (check the prices at the desk; don’t accept what they tell you) that it might be easier.

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