Surrealism and Design

The founders of Dada and Surrealism, including Hugo Ball, Tristan Tzara and André Breton, used graphic design to promote their respective movements. This can be seen in the many art journals, magazines and periodicals that the artists founded and published. 

Graphic Design

The revolutionary ideals of the Zurich-based Dadaists were circulated through this type of media and graphic design was used as a way to promote the ideologies of the group. Text and lettering were designed in an unruly way, reflecting the group’s creative output. Surrealists had a slightly different approach, using illustrations and photographic documents in the pages of their publications. Examples can be found in the reading room at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Design, objects and advertising

Salvador Dalí and Man Ray collaborated to produce design objects and advertising. Perhaps the most recognisable one is the Chupa Chups lollipop packaging designed in 1969 by Dalí. Another design object that is still being reproduced and sold today is Man Ray’s Chess Set, which is echoed in his artwork Surrealist Chess Board (1934). It is a collage of portraits paying homage to Surrealist artists. Surrealism’s origins lie in literary and art movements but these objects and advertising show how Surrealism stretches out to popular culture.  

With the rise in consumer culture, artists associated with Surrealism also shifted into fashion and product design. The fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli was inspired by Salvador Dalí’s paintings and sculptures. For example, Dalí’s Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in their Arms the Skins of an Orchestra (1936). They also collaborated on her ‘lobster dress’ (1937). Its design connects to the artist’s famous Lobster Telephone (1938). Schiaparelli also collaborated with Leonor Fini who designed the packaging for her perfume, Shocking. The bottle resembles those of designer Jean Paul Gaultier’s perfume lines Scandal and La Belle.

Product design

Dalí also designed jewellery, such as his famous The Eye of Time. The diamond and ruby encrusted eye-shaped brooch/watch was originally created for Dalí's wife, Gala. Another example of the intersection of Surrealism and design is Meret Oppenheim’s Tisch mit Vogelfüßen [Table with bird feet] from 1939. It is a fully functional round table with scrawny bird legs complete with knees and clawed feet. The table continues to be reproduced and can still be purchased, showing how popular Surrealist design objects are today.

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By Andra Proca, 18 March 2022