London

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 April, 2007, 12:00am

There are two surreal shows at the Victoria and Albert Museum this spring. The first is the headline exhibition, Surreal Things, which costs GBP9 (HK$140). If you get tired queuing for it, you can always take a rest on the big, red, hot-lips sofa (below) that's a signature of the surrealist movement.


The show starts promisingly, with visitors walking through red velvet curtains to be greeted by a ballet scene with suitably bizarre costumes from the 1920s, including a general with medals painted on his front and a picture of an exploding grenade on the back.


The surreal movement started in 1917, the term coined by a Frenchman during the first world war. It emerged from the ideology of Karl Marx (with protests in Paris in the 20s, when surrealist artists were seen to have sold out to the commercialisation of the ballet) and from the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud.


But the show is about how designers were inspired by surrealism, and how surrealist artists engaged in design.


Marcel Jean's cloud wardrobe is covered with a trompe l'oeil suggesting that its drawers and doors open onto a magical landscape of sky and fields. It was painted in 1941 in Budapest in the midst of the surreal trauma of the second world war.


There's an old artisan's wheelbarrow upholstered in luxurious red velvet (used in Man Ray's photo shoots), and there's a lifestyle photomontage of a bizarre apartment in Paris, with an outside terrace made up like an 18th-century interior, with green grass carpet looking astonishing against the outside fireplace and candelabra, as you look across to the Arc de Triomphe.


The show deals with some contemporary issues. The idea that an ordinary object can be transformed into art just because an artist says so is one that we're still struggling with today, but there's a sense that surrealism is a movement that's part of the past.


For real, contemporary surreal you need to see the second show, which is free. Kylie: The Exhibition has a simple format. Various of Australian pop singer Kylie Minogue's costumes are on a giant catwalk, surrounded by photographs of her wearing them in concert, on album covers or on fashion shoots.


There's a reconstruction of Minogue's dressing room, with the objects she brings with her to every performance. There are usually four dressers to help with her 40-second changes, in what she calls a 'Formula-1 pit stop' scenario. The room features leopard-skin suitcases, baby pink teddy bears (engraved with her name), a homburg hat with a Daliesque eye painted on it, and a tie embroidered with a huge sequinned image of a safety pin. Just outside the door are more extravagant costumes, including a four-metre tall dress, with a skirt built to hide 12 dancers.


It might have all begun with Marxists bewailing the commercialisation of art, but it's here, in the super-consumerist arena of pop, that the ideas of those early surrealists might arguably be said to have found one of their most enduring homes.


Surreal Things. Ends July 22; Kylie: The Exhibition. Ends June 10


 

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