Philadelphia, PA (February 11, 2005)--Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), 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 United States in more than 60 years. Salvador Dalíembraces 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 Dalí’s famous surrealist canvases of the 1920s and 1930s in context with his early and later work and reassessing his position in modern art. The exhibition is composed of 150 paintings, the largest number of Dalí’s pictures ever to be assembled together, accompanied by sculpture, works on paper, photographs of the artist and a documentary section. These works are drawn from public and private collections in 14 countries.
Salvador Dalíis organized by the Palazzo Grassi, Venice and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in collaboration with the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, Figueres, Spain, which has commissioned a world-wide Dalí Centennial year of exhibitions and events. In the United States the retrospective exhibition is on view only in Philadelphia, from February 16 through May 15, 2005.
Anne d’Harnoncourt, Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said: “Our Museum is honored to participate in the Dalí Centennial by co-organizing this landmark exhibition with the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, which was created by the artist himself to manage his estate and legacy, and has played a pivotal role in this Centennial event. With our friends and colleagues at the Palazzo Grassi, we are delighted to introduce Dalí to audiences from around the world.
“Dalí is one of the best-known artists of all time and yet 15 years after his death and despite such remarkable public recognition, his achievement has yet to be fully understood. This exhibition will provide a splendid opportunity for scholars, artists, and visitors to encounter a complete and complex picture of the artist’s oeuvre.”
Since the artist’s death in 1989, Dalí has remained one of the best-known and most instantly recognizable artists in the world. His lasting importance has been much debated and discussed in recent years as exhibitions and scholarly studies have begun seriously to re-examine the breadth and intelligence of his work over seven decades. The curatorial team for this project has built upon these insights to create a thorough account of Dalí’s art and ideas, while also exploring its impact on subsequent generations of artists. Surrealism has been the pre-eminent context for the understanding of Dalí’s work, and his relationship with this movement will be a significant focus within the exhibition.
The exhibition is organized chronologically, beginning with the Catalan-born artist’s earliest efforts from his art school days in Madrid where he quickly absorbed the techniques of such Spanish masters as Zurbaran and Velázquez, and Goya, before assimilating more recent developments in painting such as Impressionism and Cubism. Included among the early works in the exhibition are astonishingly realistic paintings such as Basket of Bread, 1926, and portraits of family members, as in 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, Miró and Picasso. Other early works reflect his friendships with the poet Federico Garcia Lorca and the filmmaker Luis Buñuel with whom he developed the wholly individual mode of “anti-art”- seen in works such as Unsatisfied Desires, 1928 and the Cecinitas (Little Ashes), 1927-1928.
Dalí is perhaps best known for the Surrealist paintings he made between 1929 and 1939, 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 “hand made color photography”, led André Breton to welcome the artist into the ranks of the Surrealist movement in 1929. That same year Dalí met Gala Eluard, then the wife of Surrealist poet Paul Eluard. She became his lifelong companion, artistic muse and alter ego, and the exhibition will include numerous portraits of her, among them Gala and the Angelus of Millet Preceding the Imminent Arrival of the Conical Anamorphoses , 1933.
Dalí invented what he called the “Paranoiac-Critical method” to investigate the mysteries of the subconscious. Influenced by Freudian psychoanalysis, the artist invested myths and legends with disturbing psychological meanings, often related to his own estranged relationship with his father, a formidable notary, and his beloved mother, who died when he was 16 years old. Paintings such as William Tell, 1930, and the Spectre of Sex Appeal, show how Dalí transformed existing myths to create his own unique visual language. The “Paranoiac-Critical method” was also the source of the double images that are such a striking aspect of his work of the late 1930s, as seen in The Metamorphosis of Narcissus, 1937, and Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach, 1938.
The exhibition will also examine Dalí’s response to the convulsive politics of Europe in the 1930s, seen in such landmark paintings as Soft Construction with Boiled Beans: Premonition of Civil War and Autumnal Cannibalism (both 1936). These works are poignant allegories of the Spanish Civil War, which Dalí viewed as a “delirium of auto-strangulation.” It was partly Dalí’s ambivalent reaction to the conflict in his homeland that led to his expulsion from the Surrealist group in 1939.
Another aspect of the retrospective will be a thorough examination of Dalí’s less known post-World War II period, which is marked by technical virtuosity and an interest in optical illusions, science and religion. His apparently contradictory allegiances include a revival of epic scale history painting and technological inventions such as holograms, as well as a complex relationship with the Catholic Church. In paintings such as The Madonna of Port-Lligat (first version) of 1949 and Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubicus), 1953-54, Dalí attempted to reconcile Christian iconography with images of dematerialisation inspired by the discoveries of particle physics and atomic energy. Dalí described this new phase of his art as “Nuclear Mysticism,” which led him to create such monumental works as The Railway Station at Perpignan, 1965. The exhibition will conclude with Dali’s final painting The Swallow's Tail - Series on Catastrophes, 1983.
Although often dismissed during his lifetime, Dalí’s late work had a strong impact on emerging artists in the 1960s and 1970s, reflected in the contemporary imagery of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Sigmar Polke, and Jeff Koons. As Michael Taylor, the Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and one of the contributing curators of the retrospective, said: “Dalí’s enormous impact on contemporary art has yet to be fully assessed. His late work, which embraced psychoanalysis, modern science and religious mysticism, redefined the boundaries of art, fashion, and popular culture in ways that we are only now beginning to understand. Our role as curators of the centennial retrospective is to give Dalí, the painter, writer, filmmaker, sculptor, mythmaker and performance artist, the proper recognition he deserves.”
As the only American venue of this landmark exhibition, the Philadelphia Museum of Art provides an appropriate context. The Museum owns two major Dalí paintings, Agnostic Symbol, of 1932, and Soft Construction with Boiled Beans - Premonition of Civil War, of 1936, as well as a delightful drawing of Harpo Marx, made in 1937. Long considered one of the most important paintings Dalí ever made, Soft Construction… looks back to the work of his compatriot Francisco Goya, whose Saturn Devouring One of his Children, of 1820, may have inspired Dalí to embrace his own nightmarish vision of Spain on the brink of self inflicted annihilation. It entered the Museum in 1954 as part of the famous collection of Louise and Walter Arensberg in Hollywood, California, who had purchased it through their close friend and supporter, Marcel Duchamp.
A major catalogue published by Bompiani Arte, Milan, will accompany the exhibition. It will offer a definitive account of his life and work (560 pages; $48 paper; $75 cloth). It will consist of catalogue entries on each work along with an illustrated chronology, bibliography, and an introductory essay by Dawn Ades, FBA OBE, the distinguished English Dalí specialist. The book explores the development of the artist's technique and style, his relationship with the Surrealists, his experiments with optical illusions, and his interest in themes related to science and religion in his later work. The book includes illustrations of all the works loaned to the exhibition, and others, as well as comparative illustrations and photographs. Dawn Ades is a Professor of Art History at the University of Essex, and is currently the Director of the Research Centre for Studies of Surrealism and its Legacies in England. She has written numerous books, catalogues and essays on Dalí including most notably her acclaimed critical study entitled Dalí (London: Thames on Hudson, 1982). She has curated and co-curated several Dalí exhibitions, including Salvador Dalí: A Mythology for the Tate Gallery, Liverpool; and The Salvador Dalí Museum, St Petersburg, Florida, in 1998 and Dalí’s Optical Illusions, which was shown at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, in 2000. A second volume will publish new essays by notable Dalí scholars, as presented at the international conference, Persistence and Memory: New Critical Perspectives on Dalí at the Centennial, held at the Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida, on March 18 – 20, 2004