Salvador Dali: The Grand Master of Surrealism

USA TODAY, May 2005 | Go to article overview

Salvador Dali: The Grand Master of Surrealism


SALVADOR DALI (1904-89), among the most influential artists of the 20th century, is the subject of the first comprehensive retrospective exhibition to be organized since the artist's death and the first to be seen in the U.S. in more than 60 years. It embraces every aspect of his creative life as painter, writer, object-maker, designer of ballets and exhibitions, filmmaker, theorist, and publicist. It includes more than 200 works, placing Dali's famous surrealist canvases of the 1920s and 1930s in context with his early and later efforts and reassessing his position in modern art. The exhibition is composed of 150 paintings, the largest number of Dali's pictures ever to be assembled together, accompanied by sculpture, works on paper, photographs of the artist, and a documentary section.

"Dali is one of the best-known artists of all time and yet, 16 years after his death and despite such remarkable public recognition, his achievement has yet to be fully understood," says Anne d'Harnoncourt, director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "This exhibition will provide a splendid opportunity for scholars, artists, and visitors to encounter a complete and complex picture of the artist's oeuvre."

Dali's lasting importance has been much debated and discussed in recent years as exhibitions and scholarly studies have begun to reexamine seriously the breadth and intelligence of his work over seven decades, as well as exploring his impact on subsequent generations of artists. Surrealism has been the preeminent context for the understanding of Dali's work, and his relationship with this movement is a significant focus within the exhibition.

"Dali" is organized chronologically, beginning with the Catalan-born master's earliest efforts from his art school days in Madrid, where he quickly absorbed the techniques of such Spanish masters as Francisco de Zurbaran, Diego Velazquez, and Francisco de Goya, before assimilating more recent developments in painting such as Impressionism and Cubism. Included among the early paintings in the exhibition are the astonishingly realistic "Basket of Bread" (1926), and portraits of family members, such as "Figure at a Window" (1925), as well as his first contributions to the European avant-garde in the 1920s, when he rapidly reacted to the work of his contemporaries Joan Miro and Pablo Picasso. Other early works reflect his friendships with the poet Federico Garcia Lorca and the filmmaker Luis Bunuel with whom he developed the wholly individual mode of "anti-art"--seen in canvases such as "Unsatisfied Desires" (1928) and the "Little Cinders (Cenictas)" (1927-28).

Dali perhaps is best known for the Surrealist paintings he made between 1929-39, in which he transformed personal desires and obsessions into some of the most arresting images of the 20th century. Paintings like "The First Days of Spring" (1929) and "The Enigma of Desire: My Mother ..." (1929), executed with the minute realism that he called "handmade color photography," led poet and essayist Andre Breton--one of the founders of the Surrealist movement--to welcome the artist into its ranks. That same year, Dali met Gala Eluard, then the wife of Surrealist poet Paul Eluard. …

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