Thursday, 24 January 2013

Dali Exhibition, Pompidou Centre, Paris

Dali exhibition, Centre Pompidou, Paris, by Larissa Woolf Arts Editor,

The Pompidou Centre in Paris is hosting a spectacular retrospective of the renowned artist, Salvador Dali. It is a meticulous and thorough exhibition with a chronological overview of the artist’s work and philosophy and the many artistic phases he went through in his life. On show are all of the masterpieces of all his periods including paintings, sculptures, works of art, writing and film footage. He was a controversial and hugely talented artist who created an enormous collection of work that spanned four decades and established him firmly on the world scene as one of the most influential artists of modern times.

Dali was fiercely opposed to modernism and broke away from rigid constraints from an early age. One of his first paintings was a portrait of his father, painted in 1925. Here we see the beautiful forms and sculptural aspects of his father; painted in a grey suit with an austere dark background. Dali used successive layers of paint to create huge depth and his father’s stern, piercing gaze is evident. He produced a painting that was no longer influenced by Impressionism but by Classical Realism. He conveys the complex relationship he had with his father and his whole family – in fact in 1930 he separated from his family when he painted a blasphemous protrait of his mother. Dali quickly became famous for his quirky and grandiose personality; he would regularly make grand statements such as his pronouncement that “I am each morning the only Spaniard who touches the sun”. His relationship with Spain and especially with Catalunia had a huge effect on his painting as was his intense and tumultuous relationship with his soon to be wife, Gala. When living in Madrid he became friends with the poet, Lorca, and Luis Bunuel. This friendship affected his paintings to create a new objectivity; an art without sensation. In this way a new world of dreamlike nature came into being based on devices being derived from a mechanised universe. As well as this was a gruesome assembly of headless bodies and dismembered organs that were strewn around his paintings. This can be seen in his remarkable work, ‘Le Grand Masturbateur’ which at the time created a sensation and still does to this day. We see a grand painting of flesh and stone, a mixture of man and woman. The face is weighed down by guilt and there are symbolic parts and pieces strewn around the picture. Dali invites us to contemplate it like a dream with multiple interpretations. The gruesome painting analyses Dali’s own paranoia and alternately attracts and repels its audience and creator. Maker of a dreamlike universe and world of illusion Dali famously invented the “paranoiac – critical’ method based on Freud’s teachings, which impelled him to continually push past the boundaries of his experiences and the relationship between man, space, matter and reality. He created a surreal world where objects had multiple functions and meanings such as the famous lobster phone. In his unusual interpretation of Millet’s 'Angelus' we see how he portrays the woman in the painting as a praying mantis, getting ready to devour the male, whose sexual organs are hidden by a hat as if she were getting ready for death. In this sense Dali creates art with multiple visions and interpretations and a world that is not fixed and stable but full of ambiguities.

One of the highlights of the show for me were his two paintings ‘Metamorphoses of Narcissus’ and ‘The Temptation of St Anthony’. In the first painting we see a dramatic, colourful and grand rendition of this old myth. The sculptural and immense figures inhabit the painting. Dali also wrote a long and complex poem to amplify the painting in which he expounds the myth of Narcissus and of Ovid. We see how he identifies his wife Gala as Narcissus in the poem. Perhaps here he sees her as his double in the painting. In the ‘Temptation of St Anthony’ we see how Dali takes a biblical story and transforms it into a supernatural painting describing the temptations faced by St Anthony the Great during his sojourn in the Egyptian desert. In Dali’s version St Anthony is confronted by temptations associated with a spider legged horse and elephant. The elephant and obelisk were re-occuring motifs in Dali’s work. We see how the long, spindly legs of the elephant extend higher and higher into the sky, perhaps to symbolise man’s desire to excel. But as the feet of the beasts are planted on the ground so too are man’s dreams rooted in reality.

This exhibition is one of the most thorough and detailed shows of the year; nothing is left out of this grand retrospective of Dali’s life and career. This great surrealist painter and thinker created art at a prolific rate. Make sure to allow a little more time if you want to give this exhibition and this artist justice.

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