Exhibition: Dalí. Mass culture
Barcelona, 4 February 2004
“Do you suffer from ‘periodical’ intellectual sadness? Aesthetic depression, fatigue, aversion toward life, manic depression, congenital mediocrity, gelatinous imbecility, diamond kidney stones, impotency or frigidity? Take Dalinal, the artificial spark that will rekindle your spirit.” This text accompanied an advert for a spoof medicine (Dalinal) that decorated the pages of Dali News, the newspaper that Dalí conceived, directed and edited as a self-promoting vehicle for his work and persona. But Dalí’s relationship with popular culture went beyond such bold stunts. Fascinated by the nickel-plated headlamps of the Isotta Freschini automobiles, the Fox newsreels, the mute Harpo Marx, the sofa-lips of Mae West, mannequins, gramophones and black-bottom dancers, Dalí turned the tension generated between two apparently opposing concepts the great European tradition (‘high’ culture) and industrially-manufactured popular culture (‘low’ culture)- into stimuli for his creative imagination. On occasion of the Dalí Year and in conjunction with the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, ”la Caixa” Foundation presents in the CaixaForum the exhibition Dalí. Mass culture, a first-ever, detailed analysis of the relationships between the painter / writer and mass culture, consisting of 400 works that include oil paintings, water colours, drawings, documents, adverts, films, designs and miscellaneous items, classified in eight sections. As a novel addition to the exhibit, coinciding with the opening, CaixaForum will host, for the first time in Spain, the viewing of the film Destino, a commission by Disney that the cartoon giant never produced for the silver screen.
The exhibition Dalí. Mass culture, curated by Fèlix Fanés, can be visited at CaixaForum (av. del Marquès de Comillas, 6-8), from 6 February to 23 May, 2004.
The exhibit will then travel to the Reina Sofía Museum (Madrid), where it will remain between June and August, 2004. Part of the exhibit will also be available for viewing in the Dalí Museum in Saint Petersburg (Florida, USA) and the Boymans Museum (Rotterdam), cities to which it will travel between October, 2004 and January, 2005 (Saint Petersburg) and between February and May, 2005 (Boymans Museum). Part of the works making up the exhibit come from these three major collections. The show has also benefited from the collaboration of major lenders, such as the MoMA and the Metropolitan (New York) the Georges Pompidou Centre (Paris), and other various private collections (among them, the Disney Studios). The exhibition is produced by ”la Caixa” Foundation and co-organised in collaboration with the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation .
“If up until now, Dalí has been broadly studied as a painter and writer, the links that he kept up throughout his life with ‘the other’ culture also deserve a global overview that will allow us to understand their complexity, richness and novelty,” says de Fèlix Fanés, curator of this exhibition, one of the main events of the Dalí Year, commemorating the centenary of the birth of Salvador Dalí (1904-1989). Dalí. Mass culture analyses the relationship between the genius and industrial culture, his understanding of art and the complexity of modern times. There are three levels of exhibit: representation in Dalí’s works of pop culture themes (inclusion of a Coca-Cola bottle in Poetry of America, 1943); the transformation of painting under the influence of serialised reproduction techniques (collage, performances), and his direct interventions in popular culture through the design of products others commissioned (in areas such as fashion, cinema or advertising). These three levels are described using eight different areas:
1. Modern life. Art. Antiart. An approach to how Dalí conceived art (the antiartistic theory), his relationship with various aspects of contemporary culture and the praise of objects.
2. The Angelus. Tragic myth. Dalí’s speculations based on the painting The Angelus by Jean-François Millet (1859). These variations were accomplished through paintings and writing.
3. Hollywood. Place of pilgrimage. Dalí’s participation in vanguardist films and his (nearly always frustrated) relationship with the film industry: Buñuel, Hitchcock, Disney, etc. For the first time ever, the oils, water colours and paintings done by Dalí for the Destino project are shown.
4. The Dream of Venus. The painter’s participation in the New York Universal Exposition of 1939, a pavilion midway between surrealistic object and the classic haunted house found on fairgrounds everywhere.
5. Fiat modes, pereat ars. This section is devoted to design, using fashion as its main driver: dresses, perfumes, advertisements, etc.
6. Photographic documents. An exhibition of photographs not taken by Dalí, but rather by renowned artists such as Man Ray, Brassaï and Philippe Halsman, whose ‘stagings’ were invented by the Ampurdan artist.
7. Dalí news. Dalí’s interventions in the press: Vogue, American Weekly, etc.
8. Epilogue. The screen tests taken by Dalí for Warhol in the mid-1960’s.
Modern life. Art. Antiart
Together with Lluís Montanyà and Sebastià Gasch, in 1928 Salvador Dalí published the Yellow Manifesto (Catalan Antiartistic Manifesto), which triggered many contrary reactions, and was declared to be futurist and passé. The artist thus adopted a new aesthetic theory (“antiartistic”, in his own words), influenced by the ideas of the French magazine L’Esprit Nouveau and Le Corbusier. The way of looking depended on an “anaesthetic eye”, “lacking eyelashes”, an eye like a Zeiss camera lens, that is, machine-like. The concept is taken up in this first section, which, as a conceptual entryway puts us on the route of the exhibition outlining the key themes of Dalí’s works in relation with contemporary culture: enthusiasm for mass consumption products, the praise of objects, fusion of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, etc. The displacement game becomes apparent in the oil painting Poetry of America (1943): in an Italianising context (the compositorial model originates in a work by Raphael), there is a bottle of Coca-Cola, nearly 20 years before Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol introduced it in their work. The over 70 works that make up this first section show Dalí’s interest in the new industrial culture: advertising, cinema, photography, sports, jazz, aeronautics, the gramophone, newspapers, science, etc. Likewise, his works of Cubist influence, surrealistic posters and illustrations for stories, books and newspapers are shown.
The Angelus. Tragic myth
Consisting of some 40 pieces, this section shows Dalí’s speculations based on an image belonging to ‘high’ as well as pop culture: the (painted and written) ‘variations’ that he executed based on the painting The Angelus (1859) by Jean-François Millet. Dalí’s interest in this work shows his desire to blur the border between original work and serialised reproduction, as well as his inclination for the anachronistic, that is, the passé, extravagant and unusual. It is no surprise, since despite being old-fashioned, the religious work The Angelus enjoyed major popularity, just as The Last Supper by DaVinci was reproduced ad infinitum through painted, sculpted and mechanically impressed copies that popped up everywhere (homes, churches, schools, hospitals), sometimes adhered to surprising objects (music boxes, plates, upholstery, coffee grinders, etc.). Dalí, who like Gala was an obsessive collector, spoke of “obsessive stereotypification” when referring to Millet’s work. This part of the exhibit not only offers several of Dalí’s ‘copies’ of The Angelus, but also all the items related with the work that the artist collected: cartoons, adverts, miscellaneous objects.
Hollywood. Place of pilgrimage
The hardhearted Greta Garbo, the unbearable child prodigy Shirley Temple, the sexualised Mae West… Dalí soon understood that, to become the stuff of masses, he could not ignore one of the media with most direct influence on the public: cinema. This section features one hundred objects and works, such as the Sofa-lips that he created with the inspiration of Mae West’s face, documents from Un chien andalou and L’Âge d’or, both films from 1929, the scripts for which Dalí wrote with Luis Buñuel. Likewise, this section reflects the artist’s direct interventions in Hollywood cinema: the script he wrote for a film with the Marx brothers that was never filmed, as well as drawings of Harpo Marx; posters for Babaouo, a film he always (unsuccessfully) sought to see produced; a drunken sequence for the Fox film Moontide, which was never used; his collaboration with Hitchcock in Spellbound, one of the first American films to have psychoanalysis as its main theme, for which Dalí was to create an oneiric sequence, which was cut to two minutes, 49 seconds in the final version; his work with Disney, who commissioned a six-minute episode based on the song by Mexican Armando Domínguez entitled Destino that, after viewing the only 15 seconds filmed, he decided not to finish; his collaboration with Alexander Korda on the poster for the film Richard III (1955), in which he painted actor Lawrence Olivier under two faces; the traitor hiding below the image of the tortured English monarch. Functional by necessity, the cinematographic machine had little capacity to digest the artist’s creative torrent.
The Dream of Venus
With some 40 works (most of them photographs) this ambit reconstructs Dalí’s work in the 1939 New York Universal Exposition fun fair: a pavilion midway between surrealistic object and the classic haunted house found on fairgrounds everywhere. The objective was to depict the “impregnable oneiric substance of Venus”, in other words, to stage her dreams, peopled by mermaids, cadavres exquis, surrealistic objects, mannequins, etc. To do so, he had the collaboration of Horst P. Horst and Georges Platt Lynes, two well-known photographers who helped him manifest his wardrobe ideas. This Surrealistic House had different rooms: in the ‘dry’ part, a bed covered with ten metres of red satin, on which a noia (girl) represented Venus while dreaming; by her side, a girl hushed visitors so as not to awaken the goddess, while an enormous mirror doubled the image; in the ‘wet’ part a dream of water was portrayed. Dalí’s ideas soon entered in conflict with the sponsor, W.M. Gardner, a rubber manufacturer who wished to turn a profit while promoting his products. As a result of their dispute, the artist published a flyer entitled Declaration of Independence of the Imagination and the Rights of Man to his Own Madness to protest the Universal Exposition’s organising committee’s decision, which prohibited him from exhibiting on the facade a reproduction of Botticelli’s Venus as an inverted mermaid (fish head, woman’s feet), an idea inspired in Magritte that Garner considered an absurdity.
Fiat modes, pereat ars
This section is devoted to design, using fashion as its main driver based on some 90 artistic items. From clothing and dress design a transition is made to that of perfumes and adverts for stockings, lipsticks, fabrics, etc. Fascinated by shop windows, fashion magazines and mannequins, even his early writings mention the “sensual” and “mechanical” beings arranged in the “electric lavishness of shop windows”. Of all the couturiers of the period, Elsa Schiaparelli was closest to the surrealists. She worked with Magritte, Louis Aragon and of course, Dalí. Together they created the shoehats, inkwellhats, lobsterdresses, skeletondresses and an interesting skirt suit with drawers, a reference to Dalí’s belief that a woman’s body could be “disassembled”, allowing each piece to be shown separately. This concept led the artist to create works such as the Anthromorphic desk or Venus de Milo with drawers (both in 1936), in which the woman is transformed into something of a throbbing piece of furniture, and to ‘deform’ bodies using openable breasts, heads of roses, dorsal outgrowths in the form of a codfish tail… Beyond his collaboration with Schiaparelli, Dalí designed fabrics for Winsley Simpson (1944), curtains for Sterling (1949), carpets for Mohawk (1952) and ties for McCurrach (1944). He also produced ads for publicity campaigns, such as those for Bryans stockings (1944-1947) as well as album covers, cognac bottle labels, book covers, etc. The more he worked doing commercial art the more he distanced himself from it, designing extremely complex objects such as a bird-shaped case that was a lipstick, compact and pillbox all in one (Bird in Hand, 1950).
This section gathers over 40 photographs by renowned photographers such as Man Ray, Brassaï and Philippe Halsmany. The interesting trait they share is that Dalí took responsibility for their ‘staging”. That is, he ‘imagined’ them so that an artist could technically capture them. The most significant collaboration with Man Ray was in 1933, when the magazine Minotaure, on the advice of Duchamp, sent the photographer to Cadaqués and Barcelona to illustrate an article by Dalí “De la beauté terrifiante et comestible de l’architecture Modern Style”. Under the painter’s guidance, Ray shot the geological formations on Cape Creus and some of Gaudí’s buildings (the Pedrera, Park Güell), establishing verisimilitude between the work of nature and that of the architect. The article also featured photographs by Brassaï. This section also features the tableaux vivants that Dalí began to create in the 1940’s with photographer Philippe Halsman, known for his covers for Life: Dalí Atomicus (1948) and Dalí and the skull (1951). “Each time Dalí thought of an odd, hard-to-take photo, I made an effort to find a solution,” said Halsman.
Some thirty documents familiarise visitors with Dalí’s multiple interventions in the press, from the covers of the sophisticated Vogue to cartoons for the highbrow American Weekly, to the publication of his own newspaper, the Dali News and the ‘retouching’ of covers or interior pages of newspapers. Throughout his entire career, Dalí used the press in two ways: as an instrument for self-promotion and as a platform to develop certain visual languages appropriate for the medium. At the end of 1934 he signed a contract with William Randolph Hearst to collaborate with American Weekly magazine, which came out on Sundays, with a circulation of some six million copies. In the 1940’s, he collaborated with Vogue magazine, creating several covers. Some years later, he decided to publish his own newspaper, the Dali News (obviously a play on words with New York’s Daily News). “Given that newspapers have to deal with so many different things… this time I decided to write everything I’d like to read in newspapers about myself,” said Dalí about his paper, only two editions of which ever hit the streets (November 1945 and 1947), coinciding with exhibitions put on by the painter in New York’s Bignou Gallery. They took the format of popular newspapers, with large, eight-column headlines and were generously illustrated. Only the artist was written about: Dalí’s ballets, Dalí’s films, Dalí’s paintings. Dalí’s interest in print media then took a new route; the deviation of the image from its original meaning. From the beginning of the 1940’s the painter retouched (with tempera, coloured pencils and pens), magazine covers, newspaper pages, typesets, etc. with the aim to distort the journalistic story to create something different. He tended to choose mass-circulation publications: Vogue, Life, Paris-Match, Pour Vous, etc.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, several artists expressed their admiration for Dalí and his work: James Rosenquist, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, etc. In Warhol’s case, the relationship went beyond a mere tribute: he had the Catalan artist take two screen tests (1965 and 1966). Warhol had the habit of making cinematographic ‘portraits’ of the celebrities who passed through his studio. They were like ID photos made with 16 mm film, with no sound, some three to five minutes long. On both occasions, Warhol shot Dalí face-down. These images were projected on the walls of the Factory. They were part of the celebrated New York nights: Dalí, the music of The Velvet Underground, etc. Along with the two screen tests, this section shows a period photograph by David McCabe of Dalí and Warhol together, in the Hotel St. Regis of New York in 1964.
Dalí. Mass culture
From 6 February to 23 May 2004
Opening: 5 February, 20 h
Av. Marquès de Comillas, 6-8
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday and holidays, 10 am to 8 pm
Mondays closed, except holidays