“To see or not to see,” that is not the question when it comes to
the newest Dalí exhibit at the Reina Sofia
Text: Drew De Los Santos
Photos: Shira Stoll
With four floors of art you can walk around for hours and still have more to see in Spain’s national art museum, the Reina Sofia. But what’s not to be missed is the current special exhibit. The creations of Salvador Dalí take up the entire third floor, eleven different rooms, with some of his earliest musings to his most famous paintings.
Dalí was born in Figueres, a small coastal city in the Catalonian region near the border with France. From a young age he had a love of art and creativity. Within the exhibit you will see many of his earliest paintings and doodles, which give a sense of his development and understanding of the craft. Dalí began with more traditional styles of painting. He was influenced by the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, and emulated the likes of Ramon Pichot and the color contrasts of the Fauvists like Matisse. One of his first self-portraits, Autorretrato con cuello rafaelsco (Self-portrait with “Raphaelesque” Neck), exemplifies his admiration for established artists as well as his inclination towards exaggeration and his ability to incorporate his own twist.
Throughout his life Dalí took conventionality and turned it on its head, choosing to reveal another way of seeing things as well as a little of his own madness. At first his personal techniques were subtle, and as you stroll through the exhibit you will see his earliest works influenced by Cubism, Picasso, and how he grew into his strange style.
But Dalí was not just a painter. Displayed within the exhibit are articles he wrote on the artists who influenced him most. It is clear that Dalí studied art extensively in order to develop the ability to take from it what he deemed useful to his own vision.
A fascinating quote by Dalí, “to see or not to see,” defines his approach to life and to his art. Dalí was a pioneer in Surrealism, which was a revolutionary movement that began in the 1920s. The main hub of Surrealism was in Paris, and after being kicked out of the Madrid School of Fine Arts Dalí joined many other surrealists like André Brenton, writer, poet, and the founder of Surrealism, there. Another notable artist that journeyed to Paris to contribute to this movement was Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.
During the late 1920s Dalí’s aesthetic and way of thinking underwent major changes. He chose to see things objectively and independently of their context. In this way, his subconscious was able to invert and distort reality. He took on a specifically anti-artistic stance. He rejected sentimentalism (nostalgia) and folklore and instead took a more scientific approach to his vision. This developed into what art historians refer to as his “paranoiac-critical method,” which plays on the mind’s willingness to see only what it wants to see based on the context of personal experience and mindset.
Surrealism is an open-ended art form in which there is a constant conversation between the piece and the viewer. There is no wrong way to interpret it and, in fact, one is encouraged to keep looking beyond and within the art.
Dali expanded beyond paintings with his first surrealist short-film in 1929, Un chien Andalou (An Andalucian Dog), which is playing in the exhibit. The film is an extraordinary achievement and you will be amazed at the special effects used given the time period. Dalí continued to experiment with film throughout his career and you can view his collaboration with the infamous Alfred Hitchcock in the 1945 film, Spellbound, as well as another one of his cocky short films from the mid 60’s filmed at his home in Port Lligat.
Again, his work expanded beyond paintings and film to sculpture and 3D art. Most memorably included in the exhibit is the Hysterical and Aerodynamic Woman, which plays on Grecian statues and takes it to a new place, influenced by science and boundless imagination. His surrealism is not lost in the realm of 3D and in fact brings it closer to reality.
If anything can be learned from viewing the extensive collection it is that art has no limits nor can enough be created. Dalí boldly declares the independence of imagination and the rights of man to his own madness. He is truly an independent spirit. There is an obsessive nature to his work that grabs the viewer and pulls them along room by room. Within his works it becomes obvious that Dalí was constantly influenced by his past, present, and what he suspected of the future. The most notable and striking are those that precede the Spanish Civil War and those created during World War II. Surrounded by repression and death, Dalí’s art thrives. Surrealism becomes the only way to accurately depict the unspeakable emotions associated with war. Cannibalism is the underlying theme of these war-influenced paintings, which shines through as disturbingly philosophical.
As his life went on, Dalí was increasingly influenced by the scientific thought and discovery of his time. This evolved into what can only be described as the simultaneous exemplification of the atomic level and the bigger picture in one instance. A work not to be missed is on display in the final room of the exhibit, Maximum Speed of Raphael’s Madonna in which Dalí at once explores and emulates Raphael’s classic work. Of course, one may view the most famous classics of Dalí such as The Persistence of Memory, but the exhibit at Reina Sofia gives a much broader and in depth look at the seemingly infinite abyss that was the mind of Salvador Dalí.
This exhibit will run until September 2, 2013. Information on times and prices is available at www.museoreinasofia.es.
Drew has a BA in International Relations from Trinity University. She loves to write and travel, “finding new things to do in a city no matter where.”
Shira is a Photography major at S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University.
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