A Dalí retrospective opened at the Centre Pompidou in Paris on November 21, 2012 and I have to say it: it’s pretty damn amazing.
It’s so amazing that I’m not even sure where to begin. The exhibit itself covered so much and had so many paintings and styles and ideas and mediums that I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by the idea of writing about it. It would be impossible to cover it all. It must be experienced.
So I guess I’ll start from the beginning with a little bit of history (throat clearing): Salvador Dalí was born in 1904, just nine months (coincidentally just time enough for his own gestation) after the death of his older brother Salvador.
As one can imagine, having been given a necronym and being told outright by his parents that he was his older brother come again heralded Dalí’s struggle with normality and identity. Of his brother, Dalí said, “…[we] resembled each other like two drops of water, but we had different reflections.” (Dalí, Secret Life, p.2)
I can just imagine him asking himself as a young child, “If I’m my brother, well then who am I?”
It’s almost chilling.
In art school, Dalí experimented with Cubism and then like most greats of his time: got kicked out of art school for inciting unrest (I knew there was something I’d done wrong by actually graduating from art school!)
When a door closes, a window opens. Dalí bogged off to Paris where he met Picasso and started to cultivate his mustache à la Diego Valazquez. Presumably this is also when he started his OMG eyebrows-raised look.
Back in Spain, in 1929 Dalí met his future wife: Gala (never mind that she was someone else’s wife at the time). Gala supposedly relieved Dalí of his virginity (do the math: sexually speaking Dalí was a bit of an odd duck (rumour has it that lady parts unmanned him). However, to go from late virginity to candaulism seems like a bit of a stretch… but I digress).
Enough of history. The exhibit itself offers us all of the usual Dalí suspects:
The Great Masturbator (1929)
I’m not sure of the significance of the woman sniffing genitalia in the upper right hand corner, but I’m sure there’s a “logical” explanation.
The Persistance of Memory (1931)
A classic! And surprisingly tiny in real life!
The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1946)
Is it just me, or are the horseshoes on the first horse upside down? I noticed this in another painting of a horse in this exhibit. I wonder what it means?
His muse Gala appeared frequently in his work as well:
Leda, the mother of Helen
In the early 1930s, Dalí started to sign his paintings with his and her name as “(i)t is mostly with your blood, Gala, that I paint my pictures“. He stated that Gala acted as his agent, and aided in redirecting his focus. She was his rock.
There were also “oddities” in this exhibit. For example, I had no idea that Dalí feared this painting:
The Angelus (1859)
by Jean-Francois Millet
What I see: A couple. Farmers. Praying for a bountiful crop.
What Dalí saw: Anxiety and a small child’s grave. It was a painting that hung in the Dalí family home. Overseeing Dalí’s daily life as a child and driving him crazy. Personally, I’m still puzzled as to how this painting could be so terrifying. Then again, I didn’t grow up being told that I was the reincarnation of a dead sibling.
Political regimes, religion, science, pop culture. Oils, collaborative photographs, film (Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound among others), performance art, commercials (Lanvin chocolate), writing, interactive installations. Nothing was safe.
And neither were cats:
Dali Atomicus (1948)
by Philippe Halsman
Dalí’s entire life was a work of art.
Trust me when I say that you don’t want to miss this show.
You have until March 25, 2013.
And don’t forget to invest in an audioguide. Like I did.