Orangisers at Atelier des Lumières in Paris had the bright idea of naming their current exhibition ‘Dali, the Endless Enigma’. Unquestionably, the show most precisely highlights not only the genius that certainly was Salvador Dali but also his reputed image as a provocateur. For 60 long years that his career lasted, the Spanish artist never failed to excite and stun enthusiasts with mysterious, polemical works often followed by his wild and thorny declarations.
We have already discussed in this column, about a year ago, when Atelier des Lumières became the first museum in Paris to reopen its doors following the Covid-19 crisis. The unusual sensations of watching not only paintings and sculptures but also their projections on immense screens, accompanied with soft classical melody pieces by maestros such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, literally bring these chefs d’oeuvre to life.
Under a trance, with music playing in the background, the exhibition makes us ambulate through Dali’s universe of creativity, of paintings and drawings highlighting his undeniable talent but also his obsession with strange, supernatural dreams. His inspirations from the creations of fabulous artists of the past, such as Velasquez, Raphael, Michelangelo, Vermeer and Millet are also evident in his innovations.
Definitely one of the most renowned surrealist painters of the 20th century and much appreciated for his acute draftsmanship, the Catalonia born Dalí was equally reputed for his eccentric, flamboyant conduct and his obviously complex imagination.
A Paris exhibition of the Spanish Surrealist icon highlights his genius as well as his reputation as a provocateur
During the Nazi rule in Germany, he openly admired Hitler and later, when General Franco imposed his dictatorship on Spain in 1939, Dali — to the shock of other contemporary painters, intellectuals and writers — became his dedicated fan. George Orwell, the British writer famous for his book 1984, in an essay analysing the personality of Dali describes him as “an artist of exceptional genius but also a disgusting human being.”
According to the Director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York at that time: “The reputation of Salvador Dalí has been an issue of controversy for more than a decade now; his conduct may be undignified but I think a great number of his works can only be described as creations by a genius.”
Much later in 1979 when Dalí was elected, a member of the French Academy of Fine Arts, at the age of 75, he was politely advised to abandon his “clowneries”. Speaking of clowneries, readers of these lines who are also movie fans will remember actor Adrian Brody brilliantly playing the role of Dali in Woody Allen’s wonderful 2011 film Paris at Midnight.
A number of museums are exclusively devoted to his works: the Dalí Museum in his birthplace in Catalonia, Spain, and the Salvador Dalí Museum in St Petersburg, Florida, US.
But there is also a Dali museum close to the fabulous Sacré Coeur cathedral in Montmartre, the highly artistic area of Paris, with some 300 pieces as a permanent collection. These include not only Dalí’s paintings and sculptures but also his sketches, letters and other writings, works of graphic arts, images shot through a movie camera as well as a number of still photographs. Dali’s fiction pieces, poems, an unfinished autobiography and many essays are also part of the repertory.
The exhibition will be up at the Atelier des Lumières in Paris, France until January 2, 2022
The writer is an art critic based in Paris.
He may be reached on ZafMasud@gmail.com
Published in Dawn, EOS, October 24th, 2021