Taking Salvador Dali Seriously

The World and I, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Taking Salvador Dali Seriously


Salvador Dali never met a stunt he didn't like. In "Dali: Mass Culture," the exhibition in Madrid marking the centenary of the Spanish artist's birth, he can be seen hamming it up in TV commercials for Braniff Airlines (now defunct), Alka Seltzer (still fizzing), and other U.S. products.

There are pages from the New York Daily News cleverly altered into The Dali News, and samples of his more memorable fantasy fashion creations, such as women's hats in the shape of a lobster or a telephone.

Also on show are his wine label design for Chateau Mouton Rothschild, several Vogue and Town & Country magazine covers with the Dali signature, his print ads for Bergdorf Goodman and Johnson's Wax, and his illustrations for de luxe editions of Dante's The Divine Comedy, Goethe's Dr. Faustus, Cervantes' Don Quixote, and the Bible. There are photographs of Dali in some of his weird and wonderful get-ups, including his hat in the shape of half an egg surmounted with the figures of Castro and Pollux.

The exhibition's large cinema section ranges from his 1920s work with Spanish director Luis Bunuel for Andalusian Dog and L'Age d'Or to his Oscar-winning dream sequences for Alfred Hitchcock's picture Spellbound, to some remarkable art work for a surrealist cartoon project entitled "Destino," which, however, was not made until some 50 years later. There is also a poster (not used) for Laurence Olivier's film version of Shakespeare's King Richard III.

"Dali: Mass Culture" is a wide-ranging, sprawling, meticulously compiled multimedia show described by its curator, Feliz Fanes, as "a new look at Dali." The aim is to track the artist's fascination with the growing twentieth-century phenomenon of mass culture--"the other culture," in Fanes' phrase--and through it to arrive at a better understanding and appreciation of Dali's art.

Dali was no reclusive genius, the exhibition is saying (as if we didn't know). He had a complex, creative relationship with the modern world, and that relationship enriched his "serious" art. The artistic genius that makes him one of the great painters of the twentieth century is on display in the show, but scantily. A scattering of paintings make that connection. Poetry in America (1944), complete with Coca-Cola bottle, shows what he can do, but generally "Dali: Mass Cuture" is a useful sidebar to a main show that isn't there. …

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