Friday, February 22, 2013

Dali, Thirty Years Later

A few weeks have passed since my visit at the Centre Pompidou in Paris to see the exhibition Dalí, a short title for a major retrospective: one hundred and twenty paintings, sculptures, videos, drawings, surrealist objects, even a kitschy Mae West installation where people can take photographs of themselves. I was in the crowd thirty years ago for the exhibition Salvador Dalí: Retrospective 1920-1980 and the artist was present. Dali would love it, the crowd is at the rendez-vous, the interest for his work does not abate.

I calculated a minimum of  ten minutes per painting, twenty hours...! The works are organized into seven sections: "The Ultralocal and the Universal", "From the Residencia de estudiantes to the Paths of Surrealism", "Surrealism and the Paranoiac-Critical Method", "Myths and History", "Theatricality", "Science, Mysticism and Theory", "Self-Reference and Great Machines". I chose my own path along the cubist, then surrealist paintings on each side of the large space occupied by glass cases full of surrealist objects, prints, drawings in the middle. There is a feeling of exhilaration when looking at the "real thing" like The Persistance of Memory, 1931, The Temptation of St Anthony, 1946, William Tell, 1940 or The Great Masturbator 1929. What I find most interesting is to discover less known paintings, some loaned by the Dali Museum in Saint-Petersburg, Florida. A flavor of  de Chirico, Miró, Tanguy... Dalí has been accused of plagiarism, ultimately he is Surrealism (as he claimed) and this is my preferred period.
An area was dedicated to the works inspired by Millet's Angelus, including Dalí's Angelus, 1932, The Architectural Angelus of Millet, 1933 , Gala's Angelus, 1935 .The original  work from Jean-François Millet lost in a corner appeared small compared to the giant, brightly colored spawns from Dalí.
Few sculptures were displayed, the Venus de Milo with Drawers, 1936/1964 was among them. To find more sculptures, a trip to Espace Dali in Montmartre is in order.
To accommodate the flow of visitors the space was left opened with no partitions between sections, only posters at strategic points and no area to rest for the tired visitor. Young children looking at the paintings with fresh eyes were asking a lot of questions...
The videos were a reminder of Dali's involvement with the movie industry. Dalí has been chastised for his political views and the exhibition brought up the subject with paintings like Partial Hallucinations.Six Images of Lenin on a Grand Piano, 1931, or Spain, 1938, Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War, 1936, Hitler masturbating, etc... His interest in science and also religion was also approached but the presentation of this later period was superficial and could not match the exhaustive exhibition "Dali the Late Work" which took place at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta in 2010, including his works  with a Pop art's flavor.
The exhibition started with several self-portraits,  Self-portrait with the Neck of Raphael, 1920-1921 showing a young Dalí, defiant, imitating Old Masters like Leonardo da Vinci for his landscapes and a Cubist Self-Portrait 1923. His Self-Portrait 1972, closes the exhibition. The long neck from Raphael is still present, the photomontage of  "Mao Marylin" created by Philippe Halsman updates his image with new icons.

Preoccupied with universal themes, death, time, birth, love, sexuality, war, science, his works are timeless.  Dali has been criticized, praised, vilified, adored and each exhibition generates new books and new reviews. It sounds like cliché with a dalinian vocabulary: exhibitionism, Freudian, contradiction, provocation , eroticism, genius, madman, hallucinations, paranoiac, psychoanalytical...

Another memorable exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, another memorable retrospective of Dalí's work to fulfill one of his wishes: art accessible to everyone.

photographs by the author

"Venus and a Sailor", 1925
""Self-Portrait", 1940-41
"The Spectral Cow", 1928 

recommended reading: "Dali The Paintings" from Robert Descharnes- Gilles Neret  (Taschen)

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