In the 1950s and 1960s the surrealist object retained its power as a vehicle for private fantasies and fears. Marcel Duchamp had been thought to have abandoned art to devote himself to chess. However, a few works that emerged during the 1950s revealed that his fascination with eroticism had not faltered. He produced three small bronzes based on parts of the sexual anatomy, and known collectively as ‘erotic objects’. After Duchamp’s death, they were found to relate to his last major project: an installation featuring a realistic model of a naked female body that could be viewed only through a peephole.

Dorothea Tanning and Louise Bourgeois also drew on the themes of the surrealist object. Tanning’s Rainy Day Canapé (1970), a woman melting into the fabric of a sofa, manages to convey unbridled sexuality, humour and pathos. Bourgeois’ Fillette (1968), combines both male and female qualities. Though overtly phallic, its title means ‘little girl’, and Bourgeois posed for photographs cradling it in her arms. ‘From a sexual point of view I consider the masculine attributes to be extremely delicate’, she said. ‘They’re objects that the woman, myself, must protect…’