The Dalì Universe
This exhibition seeks to unravel a lesser-known side of Dalí, reminding us that he was a multi-facetted artist who used many different mediums to express himself, from bronze sculpture, to lithographs and glass.
Two particularly important aspects of Dalí’s creativity are brought to light in this exhibition which have had little occasion to be appreciated in the past but are now taking on a more important role: three-dimensional sculpture, and graphics illustrating important themes of literature.
The artworks highlight the powerful effect of transforming iconographic images from Dalí’s familair paintings into three-dimensional form, confirming the artist’s continued fascination with certain symbols and subjects even several years after he first conceived them. Also evident in his sculptural work, is his fantastic, distorted and exaggerated expression which makes them instantly recognizable and unique as Dalí.
The second important aspect highlighted in this exhibition is the collection of etchings and lithographs. These are the result of Dalí’s passion for the great works of literature show that he was an extremely well-read and inquisitive man. His surrealistic interpretation of these texts range from classic works such as the interpretation of The Bible, to more modern books by contemporary writers. Mythology, religion and history stimulated and inspired Dalí to create a vast repertoire of images, personalities, and allegories with which to tell the stories we have come to know so well. The works on show date from as early as 1934 with Dalí’s first and rare illustrated book, Les Chants de Maldoror. Other examples of lesser known illustrations shown at the exhibition are the Caprice de Goya, a reworking of the famous series of prints of 1799 denouncing the “caprices” of the decadent and corrupt Spanish society of that time, and The Art of Love, based on the classic by Ovid that so scandalized the Romans of his day.
The variety of other works on display, underline the diverse techniques and materials Dalí used in his extensive body of work. A dedicated space showcases the collaboration between Salvador Dalí and the prestigious French glass making company, Daum Cristallerie. These glass sculptures, with their airy quality and their vivid colours, are a clear link to a more fantastical world. Dalí found that glass, la pâte de verre, offered the perfect medium for the “expression of metamorphose” which, according to him, communicated his surrealistic perception of reality. Dalí was mesmerized with the properties of glass which allowed the magical transformation of light and colour, and managed to convert soft elements to hard ones.
Startlingly unusual furniture and gold objects in which gold coins are transformed into fantastical figures, are just some of the other fascinating artworks the visitor can discover. Original collages of the mystical Tarot are also on display. It was Gala who read the tarot cards and it nurtured Dalí’s interest in mysticism. Dalí has given the cards his own highly personal imagery, while at the same time maintained the traditional symbolism.
Dalí’s style is rich in symbolism and recurring images. Most originated from everyday life; from his childhood experiences to his later fascination with Freudian theories. Through art, he processed his fears, his sexuality and his favored items, turning them into lifelong symbols which represent important aspects of his life. Elephants, crutches, drawers, ants and his most recognizable icon, the soft watch, represent significant events and are found repeatedly in Dalí’s oeuvre. A single artwork can be brimming with Dalí’s own personal symbolism, emotional meanings and deliberate distortions. Interpreting these symbols and sometimes hidden meanings offer us a better understanding of his ideas and his being.
These items embody some of Dalí’s strongest beliefs; his obsession with time depicted in his notorious ‘Persistence of Memory’ and in other sculptures with soft watches such as the ‘Profile of Time’; his fascination with beauty and the female form seen in the ‘Space Venus’ and the illustrations ‘The Art of Love’; the crutch, another familiar motif symbolising a support and stability which feature in the sculpture ‘Atavistic Vestiges after the Rain’ and the series of lamps for the furniture; and lastly his fascination of contrasting the hard with the soft; eggs, snails for Snail and the Angel, and tortoises seen in the Dalí D’or piece Dalí Tortoise Charm.
In conclusion, there isn’t only one way, and certainly no right way to understand these artworks. As Dalí states “What is important is to spread confusion, not to eliminate it”. He opened up a universe of fantastical possibilities, playing with and distorting objects or images to a striking effect. He was a revolutionary, one of the most creative, provocative and innovative artists of the 20th century. With his exceptional talent and eccentric character, the moustachoed Spaniard continues to captivate the public today.
By Beniamino Levi
President of the Stratton Foundation
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