The weirdest works of art

From sexy heels tied up and served on a silver platter to Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde shark, it’s a journey through some of the weirdest and most shocking surrealist art out there.

Salvador Dal’s Lobster Telephone (1936)

In the 1920s and 1930s, the surrealist movement argued that revolutions begin in dreams. They set out to create art from the unconscious, partly inspired by the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. Dal’s Lobster Telephone is the symbol of one of their most haunting discoveries, the “surreal object”, a ready-made thing or combination of things that speaks to the artist in an obsessive and inexplicable way. Telephones, according to Dal, are sinister messengers of “Beyond”, while lobsters are sexual. You can call a fantasy with a lobster phone.

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of a Living Person, by Damien Hirst (1991)

The surreal object lives like a shark preserved in formaldehyde swimming ceaselessly in the white space of an art gallery. Damien Hirst’s toothy tiger shark gapes as it seems to glide towards you, while refractive perspectives from a glass display case give this specimen of natural history the illusion of movement: surreal. The shark has become even more eerily surreal with its gradual wrinkles and decay.

Colossus of Constantine (4th century)

For centuries, artists have been haunted by the colossal remains of a statue of Emperor Constantine housed in Rome’s Capitoline Museum. In the 18th century, Henry Fuseli depicts an artist “overwhelmed” by the enormous marble hand of Constantine. In the 1950s, artist Robert Rauschenberg photographed his friend Cy Twombly standing next to the same massive relics. The size of this statue overshadows logic and its fragments are completely surreal.

Object by Joan Miró (1936)

When Catalan surrealist Joan Miró combined a pirate’s bizarre treasure trove, including a parrot, a woman’s leg, a map, a hat, and a swinging ball, he created a quintessential surreal object. Its constellation of daily dream images create a mind-opening sense of magic and mystery.

Cheating with the Ace of Clubs by Georges de La Tour

Artists of the time used the gambling theme to warn the viewer not to be deceived by fortune and fall into the hands of cheaters. The aforementioned Caravaggio drawing is believed to have inspired Georges de La Tour’s painting, which depicts cheating at gambling. A man is surrounded by three women in La Tour’s painting. It is one of the most important parts of the history of blackjack and the game in general.

Monogram, Robert Rauschenberg (1955-59)

When Robert Rauschenberg came across a stuffed goat while rummaging through New York City junkyards and antique shops, he couldn’t help but notice the sexual charge of its phallic horns and its mythological associations: satyrs goat-legged nymphs chased through the hills of ancient Greece, and the devil himself is a goat in Christian art. Rauschenberg finished the job pushing the goat.

The Song of Love by Giorgio de Chirico (1914)

The first surreal objects, according to some, appeared in Giorgio de Chirico’s paintings of melancholy modern spaces and enigmatic relics on the eve of the First World War. A rubber glove hangs incongruously beside a marble head in The Song of Love. The poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who coined the term surrealist, observed de Chirico buying this rubber glove. In other words, it is a surreal real-world object as well as a painted fantasy.

A glove by Max Klinger (1881-1898)

In this remarkable series of prints from the end of the 19th century, a man – the artist – realizes that a woman has dropped her glove. He pours his passion and desire for the unknown woman into an intense relationship with his glove in a series of increasingly bizarre fantasies. Klinger’s masterpiece demonstrates that many Surrealist ideas, such as the worship of obsessive objects, were planned for the era of fin-de-siècle decadence.

Louise Bourgeois, Robert Mapplethorpe (1982)

Louis Bourgeois, with a suggestive smile, holds a truly surreal object in this seductive photograph, one of his provocative and carnal sculptures, whose phallic form is richly enhanced by the black and white photograph of Mapplethorpe. Bourgeois’ long creative life has directly linked the surrealist era to ours. The surreal charge of the woman and her works is conveyed in this image.

Before the Broken Arm, by Marcel Duchamp (1915)

Marcel Duchamp “selected” his ready-mades before the surrealists were possessed by the objects found at the Puces de Paris. The distinction between a Duchampian readymade and a Surrealist object is that Duchamp’s sly irony differs from Dal’s ecstatic obsessions. However, Duchamp’s objects evoke the same irrational forces that would eventually dominate surrealism. This 1915 ready-made features a snow shovel and a title that warns of impending injury: Whose arm is about to be broken? Is it yours? This shovel is a witty foreshadowing.

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