Design Museum Academy Online Course

Surrealism and Design: From Dalí to AI

Join our 3-part online Surrealism Design History course. Find out how the art and literary movement that began in the 1920s came to shape the designed world.

Discover the major designers and creatives responding to Surrealist ideas today, through live online lectures, contemporary studio visits and insights filmed on location from our current exhibition Objects of Desire: Surrealism and Design 1924 – Today.

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Course structure

Session 1: Launched in Paris in the 1920s and now a global movement, Surrealism is celebrated for its art and literature, but its contributions to the field of design are much less familiar. This lecture will explore design’s fascination for the early Surrealist group, the rise of design-oriented works and collaborations by Surrealists across the century, and the complex encounter between design disciplines and Surrealism’s revolutionary ideals. How did design professionals respond to this challenge, particularly from an ethical perspective, and how have today’s key designers grasped the radical possibilities of Surrealism’s claim to change life and transform the world?
Note: You can still book to take part in the two upcoming sessions and receive a recording of the first class.

Session 2: Surrealism and Fashion From its inception almost 100 years ago, the Surrealist movement was predestined to find a natural home in the world of fashion. A manifesto built on fantasy and the “surreal” provided the perfect platform for unbridled creativity. From the iconic early collaborations of Salvador Dali and Elsa Schiaparelli through to the groundbreaking designs of Jean Paul Gaultier in the 80’s, Surrealism has had an enduring impact on the world of fashion. As a new generation of design talent responds to our uncertain times, that collision of the subconscious irrational mind and the mundane everyday has never felt so important. 

Session 3: Surrealism and Interior Design Surrealism began to shape the designed world through architecture and interiors. In contrast to the rational and minimalist aesthetics of 1920s Modernism, Surrealism inspired designers to combine styles, use innovative materials, and engage with the irrational. Monkton House, the home of British poet Edward James, was one of the most iconic examples of a Surrealist interior, introducing collaborations with artists such as Salvador Dalí into domestic spaces. James’s foresight at Monkton, and elsewhere, led to radically imaginative pieces including the Lobster Telephone and Mae West Lips Sofa.

With Design Museum Academy online courses, you can learn with others by joining our live lectures and raising questions in the Q&A or through receiving a recording of the events available for a week after the whole course series has finished. Each week there will be time available at the end of the hour-long session to answer questions.

Objects of Desire exhibition by Andy Stagg @staggstudio

Objects of Desire exhibition by Andy Stagg @staggstudio

Roberto Sebastian Matta Echaurren, MAgriTTA, 1970 © Vitra Design Museum, photo: Jürgen HANS, copyright for the works of Roberto Sebastian Matta Echaurren: © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019

Hand Chair, about 1962, Pedro Friedeberg, Production this copy: c. 1965, Carved mahogany. Vitra Design Museum

Horse Lamp, 2006, Front Design, Manufactured by Moooi BV, Breda /Niederlande, Plastic, metal. Vitra Design Museum

Wall plates no. 116 from the series Tema e Variazioni [Theme and Variations], after 1950, Piero Fornasetti, Silk print on porcelain. Fornasetti Archive

BLESSbeauty Hairbrush, 2019 edition of 1999 design, Bless, beech; human hair. Vitra Design Museum

Salvador Dalí, Lobster Telephone, 1938. Photo West Dean College of Arts and Conservation. © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí.


Kathryn Johnson

Johnson curated the exhibition Objects of Desire: Surrealism and Design 1924-today for its London run at the Design Museum and edited the accompanying book Surrealism and Design Now. She was previously co-director of Palma Studio and worked on the blockbuster exhibitions ‘Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains’ and ‘David Bowie is’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum. She holds a PhD in modern literature.

Tiya Dahyabhai

Dahyabhai is an assistant curator at the Design Museum, currently working on the exhibition Objects of Desire: Surrealism and Design 1924 – Today. At the museum, she has contributed to projects such as Bethany Williams: Alternative Systems and The Future of Ageing. Her background lies within textile design and leads textile workshops in galleries and community centres across London alongside her curatorial practice.

Krzysztof Fijalkowski

Fijalkowski is Professor of Visual Culture at Norwich University of the Arts. A long-standing specialist in the history, the relationship between surrealism and design is the focus of a number of his publications, including essays for exhibition catalogues such as Surreal Things (V&A 2007), Surreal House (Barbican Art Gallery 2010) and Objects of Desire: Surrealism and Design (Vitra Design Museum, 2019).

Tim O’Sullivan

O’Sullivan is a Creative Pattern Cutter and Senior Lecturer in Fashion Design. A graduate of the University of Westminster, and with over 25 years’ experience in the fashion industry, his creative output encompasses every genre of fashion from tailoring to high glamour and has featured in British and Italian Vogue, on the Oscars Red Carpet and the catwalks of London, Milan and New York.

Sarah Hughes

Hughes is the Programme Leader of the Art and Contemporary Craft programmes at West Dean College. Hughes is an artist and composer with interest in spatial practice. Her work has been performed internationally, including shows at South London Gallery and Cass Sculpture Foundation. Commissioned works include performances at London Contemporary Music Festival, Musée des Beaux Arts Nantes, and Constellation, Chicago.

Geoffrey Makstutis

Makstutis is the Head of the KLC School of Design for West Dean College. Trained as an architect, on projects of all sizes globally. Prior to joining West Dean, he developed higher education qualifications for Pearson and led the undergraduate architecture programme at UAL. Geoffrey is the author of two books, “Architecture: An Introduction” (2010) and “Design Process in Architecture” (2018).


Booking informationn

Adult: £24
Early bird adult: £21
Student: £21
Early bird student: £21
Members: £19
Early bird members: £17

10% early bird deadline was 31 December 2022.

Tickets are non-refundable and non-exchangeable. Visit our terms & conditions page for further information.

Note: If you missed the first session, you can still book to take part in the two upcoming sessions and receive a recording of the first class.

Discover the exhibition

Objects of Desire: Surrealism and Design 1924 – Today

Discover the dreamlike relationship between Surrealism and design – a Vitra Design Museum Exhibition.

Explore Surrealism

6 Surrealist Chairs from #ObjectsOfDesire

Here's our top picks of Surrealist chairs from #ObjectsOfDesire.

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

the Surrealist designs as signs

Inspired by our exhibition #ObjectsOfDesire, astrologer Lisa Stardust gives us a rundown of the new year and looks at the surrealist designs as zodiac signs.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

What is Surrealism and why it matters now

Curator Kathryn Johnson explains the story behind surrealism and its impact on design in this video produced in collaboration with Dezeen.

Watch time: 4 min 26 secs

Yasmina Atta: Afro-Surrealism

Delve into the world of fashion designer Yasmina Atta as she explores her inspirations, influences and ideas on modern day Surrealism with Ayoola Solarin, an arts and culture writer.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

10 Unmissable Highlights from #ObjectsOfDesire

A fully functioning lobster telephone, a fur bracelet and a chair designed mid-air - explore the 10 unmissable highlights from our exhibition.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes