Posted on Fri, Jun. 11, 2004


 I M A G E S 

Well, hello, Dali

Celebrate the 100th birthday of surrealism's most eccentric icon with several new programs and exhibits

By Gaile Robinson

Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Salvador Dali (1904-1989) was the first artist to become an icon as much for his ability to manipulate the media as for his art. Posing as an eccentric, he was the consummate showman and entertainer in a burgeoning mass-media world. He became the personification of surrealism.

To mark the centenary of his birth, the Dallas Museum of Art has dusted off its Dali holdings and put them up on the walls. Dali works that are part of traveling exhibits, such as a major exhibit opening at the Kimbell Art Museum later this month, will be moved to center stage. A show of Dali memorabilia and prints for purchase opens today at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center. A huge Dali retrospective, the combined efforts of an international consortium of museums, will make a single stop in the United States early next year, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The last one in this country was at New York's MOMA in 1965.

This uneven, circuslike response to what would have been his 100th birthday would have pleased Dali. He understood consumerism and was as comfortable with things tacky as he was with things tasteful. His work was purchased by august museums such as the Guggenheim, but no one would have been surprised to find him on Hollywood Squares.

Dali was a man of his time. He incorporated visuals of telephones, cars and Freudian dream interpretations into his work. Even though his imagery was often quite violent and sexually aberrant, he was beloved by the public.

"He had this tremendous skill. He painted whatever he wanted with ease. Even if you don't like the dripping watch or naked woman, you can at least admire the way he conveyed it," says Michael Taylor, associate curator and acting head of modern and contemporary art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Taylor will be manning the local lectern twice in the coming months, at the Kimbell and the DMA, to speak about Dali. He confesses that 10 years ago, museum officials would have raised a dubious eyebrow at the thought of hosting a Dali retrospective. "We're seeing a change. The public has always liked him; the scholars thought he was iffy. But now, younger artists respond to him. He's seen more and more as a great figure."

Dali's standing within hallowed museum walls has always been inconsistent. Even during surrealism's heyday in the 1920s and '30s, his fellow painters expelled him from their ranks. They felt he was too apolitical. "They wanted a Marxist revolution; Dali wanted a personal revelation," says Taylor.

Dali was making a name for himself in Europe when the second world war forced him and his wife/muse, Gala, to flee Europe for America. The month he arrived, the first American show of surrealism was mounted at the Wadsworth Antheneum museum in Hartford, Conn. Here, Dali uttered the words that would dog him for the rest of his days: "The only difference between me and a madman is that I am not mad." He soon made the cover of Time magazine.

Dali found a great buffet of opportunities in America. He traveled to Hollywood to hang out with the Marx brothers. Arts organizations, publishers, manufacturers, even Walt Disney wanted a piece of Dali, and he was happy to oblige. His animated collaboration with Disney was to have been included in an update of Fantasia but was left unfinished. Completed last year with the help of producer Roy Disney, the short subject, called Destino, enjoyed a limited theatrical release and earned an Oscar nomination. It should see release on video next year.

He dared to break the barrier between high art and commercialism, doing whatever beguiled him. To the horror of the elitists, and to his amusement, he treated art like a product.

Dali stayed in the United States until 1948, then returned to his native Spain. The artist's heyday was over by the '50s, as he was replaced by abstract expressionists. But Dali continued to paint his dreamlike visions in his exacting style while his persona increasingly became a caricature. In his book Diary of a Genius, he wrote, "The uniform is essential in order to conquer. Throughout my life the occasions are very rare when I have abased myself to civilian clothes. I am always dressed in the uniform of Dali."

His increasing use of buffoonery to stay in the public eye caused much of his late work to be dismissed, which is unfortunate, because it had a strong impact on emerging artists of the 1960s and 1970s such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.

During his last two decades he revisited his famous images and themes, incorporating references to new scientific discoveries such as DNA. He anticipated self-tanning sprays and thought that someday we would all communicate by telepathy.

He addressed his own mortality and his living-large philosophy in The Unspeakable Confessions of Salvador Dali, published in 1973.

"I have been living with death ever since I became aware I was breathing, it has been killing me with a cold voluptuousness exceeded only by my lucid passion to outlive myself at every minute, every infinitesimal second of my consciousness of being alive. The continual, stubborn, savage, terrible tension is the whole story of my quest."

Dali on display

"Dali 100 Years"

Through June 27

Fort Worth Community Arts Center

1300 Gendy (corner of Lancaster and Montgomery streets)

Fort Worth


(800) 367-3254

At the invitation of the Fort Worth Cultural Center of the Americas, "Dali 100 Years" opens today. Bruce Hochman, owner of the Dali Gallery in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and an avid collector of Salvador Dali memorabilia, is bringing his trove of Dali books, magazines, photographs and ephemera, as well as one-of-a-kind works for sale. More than 600 pieces will fill the galleries.

Dali works don't come cheap. Beginning prices for Dali lithographs are $1,950. One-of-a-kind oil paintings, water colors and drawings are considerably higher. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the cultural center.