Monday, September 6, 2010

"Academic Surrealist or Surrealist Academician"

The High Museum of Art in Atlanta presents a well publicized exhibition titled: "Dali: the Late Work.". On display are the works produced during four decades (1940's till the 1980's) by the prolific artist. It could be called his post-Surrealist period ( he was banned from the Surrealist movement in 1934).

The first room is an introduction with photographs from Philippe Halsman showing the artist in various poses. The photographs from the series "The Cosmic Dali" are well-known with "Dali Atomicus" (1948), "Mid Summer Night's Mare" (1949) among others, a total of fifteen photographs to wet our appetite.

The second room is occupied by ten small paintings executed between 1930 and 1940, at a time when Dali was part of the Surrealist movement. Theses paintings represent for me the Dali I know the best. I came to see the late works.

Finally, the visitor reaches the subject of the exhibition. The gigantic canvasses, including "Madonna of Port Lligat" 1950, "Santiago El Grande" 1957, "Christ of St John of the Cross" 1951, "Assumpta Corpucularis Lapilazulina" 1952 have not been displayed in the United States since the 50s. A mixture of Surrealism and Classicism, they define the religious period of the artist. Dali mixes his own symbols (horns from rhinoceros, eggs from ostriches) and religious symbols. Gala, his wife becomes the virgin Mary. Pope Pius XII encouraged Dali to pursue his search for religion, the painter became an iconoclast in the process.

The technique of the artist is flawless. For the "Christ of St John of the Cross" , he uses chiaroscuro. The special angle looking at Christ from above makes the viewer feel like being God looking at the crucified subject who himself is looking down to the fishermen, representing us, the viewers.

The visit continues with Dali's preoccupations: genetic, atom, the search for eternity are the subjects of the works, lithogaphs, prints, paintings. He mixes art, science and some charlatanism.

A small room is dedicated to Dali, the illustrator: "Don Quixote", "Ten recipes for Immortality", "The divine Comedy" . These lithographs are well known, a reminder of the quality of the artist. The prints are technical masterpieces.

Random portraits of famous personages can be seen in a corner, also, in the same area, a few jewels and Dali's game of chess, his experimentation with holography, two videos for tired visitors, more photographs from Halsman. This section of the exhition does not flow well. It is just "put together".

Dali is also the precursor of Pop art. "Portrait of my Dead Brother" 1963, "Fifty Abstract Paintings" 1963, "The Sistine Madonna" 1958 are crammed with among other works the sculpture titled: "White Eagle" 1974. Unfortunately, the space is very crowded, and this visual experience is hampered by the size of the room.

And then, it is over. The special Dali store is right there, one can buy fake mustaches, cups with Dali's portrait, jewels...

As a whole I was deceived by the exhibition...not by Dali. The rarely seen works deserved a better setting. The High Museum of Art is not short of space and could have used three times the square footage for this exhibition to give it its full impact. It would also allow a better flow of the crowd.
Dali, Don Quixotte

photographs are reproductions from the book: " Dali: The Paintings" from Robert Descharmes and Gilles Neret, made by the author

1. "St. James of Compostela", 1957
2. "Landscape at Port Lligat", 1950
3. illustration for "pages choisies de Don Quichotte de la Manche" by Joseph Foret, 1957

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