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By John Dorfman, March 2014

Gallery shows of museum quality—and sometimes even museum scope—are an art-world trend that this decade may be remembered for.   A recent standout in the category was “Dada & Surrealist Objects” at Blain|Di Donna, located on the mezzanine of the Carlyle Hotel in New York.  Curated in collaboration with private dealer and collector Timothy Baum, this exhibition—the first ever to be devoted to the subject in the US—featured works by all the artists active in the field (27 in total), starting with Marcel Duchamp’s earliest readymades, circa 1913.  In 1921 Duchamp gave up readymades to devote himself to chess, a game that clearly had surreal appeal, considering that several artists in the movement were inspired to create their own chess sets.  Alexander Calder’s version, shown here and in the Blain|Di Donna show, was made in 1944 and first exhibited in December of that year in New York in Julien Levy Gallery’s show “Imagery of Chess.”  In Calder’s wartime vision, the game pieces are completely dehumanized and replaced by pure ballistics and mechanical defenses.  Joan Miró’s very-late-Surrealist (1969) Homme et Femme Dans la Nuit (Man and Woman in the Night) also dehumanizes its figures, but in a sweeter and more whimsical way.  In this sculptural pair, the reversibility of the sexes suggests interchangeability, as well.  Among the 83 other objects that were on view were enigmatic Man Ray constructions (including a chess set of his own), Joseph Cornell boxes, “Merz” pieces by Kurt Schwitters, and a bronze Giacometti’s Ear by Meret Oppenheim (of fuzzy tea-cup fame).

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