Spanish painter of the twentieth century, born on May 11, 1904, in Figueras (Girona), and died in his castle-retreat of Púbol, in the Empordà region, on January 23, 1989.
Son of a local notary, already during his early studies, the young Salvador Dalí showed an incredible artistic precocity, emphasizing in particular his innate ability for drawing, a passion duly encouraged by his teachers who saw in the student a future figure of painting. After completing his basic studies, with rather mediocre grades, Dalí moved to Madrid in 1921, with the intention of enrolling in the San Fernando School of Fine Arts, where he revealed his ability in the entrance exam, as well as showing signs of an extravagant character that would later cause him problems with the institution. His peculiar way of being and acting became evident in 1923, when he was separated from the school for a year due to a serious lack of discipline and, again in the same year, when he was definitively expelled from the School after having declared the court that had to examine him incompetent.
During his years in the capital, the artist lived in the Residencia de Estudiantes, where he soon came into close contact with young people who pointed out the best in the arts in the country, such as Luis Buñuel, Dámaso Alonso, Rafael Barradas, Federico García Lorca, etc. Thanks to his friendship with the latter came the execution of several scenographies made by Dalí for the theatrical compositions of the brilliant poet from Granada. In Madrid, Dalí entered a totally new environment for him, a bohemian Madrid that captivated him and opened him to the new artistic currents that were being prepared and tested. The young Catalan artist’s painting was influenced by all these heterogeneous experiences. If up to that moment Dalí had framed his paintings within the purest academic tradition, with his stay in Madrid he evolved towards all kinds of avant-garde, from cubism to the metaphysical painting of Chirico. It was precisely to the influence of the latter that one of Dalí’s best-known pre-surrealist paintings, Muchacha de espalda mirando por la ventana (Girl with her back turned looking out the window), from 1925, was due. In this work Dalí showed his great mastery in painting a set of exquisite sobriety, without detracting one iota of the mystery that surrounds the female figure, hiding her face from the viewer. Dalí showed his personality in the realistic interpretation of the theme and in the solidity and precision of the contours and forms of the female figure.
|Dalí’s Most Famous Artwork: “Persistance of Memory”|
With works such as this one, in which he shows his exceptional technical virtuosity, he participated in several exhibitions during this period, such as those organized by the prestigious Dalmau Gallery in Barcelona and by the Salón de Artistas Ibéricos in Madrid.
In 1926, Dalí made his first trip to Paris, where he returned shortly afterwards. In the French capital he came into contact with artistic circles, where he met figures such as Picasso, Paul Eluard and Tristan Tzara. His arrival in the city on the Seine coincided with the peak of the surrealist movement, which he was already familiar with through the works of the painter Tanguy, published in the magazine Minotaure. The term surrealism was first used by Apollinaire in 1917. It was later used assiduously by writers of the stature of André Breton, author of the Manifesto of Surrealism, published in 1924, and by Paul Eluard. This movement immediately achieved a resounding success, gathering around itself a group of writers and artists interested in overcoming the prevailing external realism to reach deeper levels of reality, which will be sought and found in the magical, in dreams, in the unconscious. Surrealism was the culmination of the exploration of the inner mysteries of the human being; as a stripping naked before reality.
The antecedents of surrealism were distant, especially in painters of the early nineteenth century, who attempted an approach to the powers of the dream, as demonstrated by painters such as the Spanish Francisco de Goya y Lucientes and the French Odilon Redon. Centuries earlier, a certain touch of surrealism can also be glimpsed in the delirious paintings of Bosch. But the surrealist movement of the early 20th century differed from those original artistic manifestations in that it was a formula consciously sought by artists, born and nurtured in the philosophical and scientific environment of authors such as Bergson, Freud or Jung. In the purely artistic field, its immediate antecedents can be found in Rousseau, Chagall and Chirico, and especially in all the artists of the Dadaist school, which emerged in the Swiss city of Zurich during the First World War, and which had a very important influence on the subsequent artistic manifestations of the century, since it aimed not at the criticism or negation of this or that artistic manifestation, but of art and culture as such. The essence of Dada as an immediate precedent of surrealism was that it proposed the total destruction of all realistic and rational conventionalism in art, which opened enormous expectations and field of action to the young and enthusiastic artists who came after it. Since 1924, this search became conscious and programmatic within the surrealist movement. The manifesto launched by André Breton proposed, without any doubt or ambiguity, “pure psychic automatism, beyond any control exercised by reason”. In 1925 the group of surrealist painters was presented to the public: Paul Klee, Chirico, Arp, Ernst, Joan Miró, Man Ray? later joined by Duchamp, Picabia, Magritte, etc.
|“The Face of War”|
Salvador Dalí did not take long to join the group of surrealists in an enthusiastic and immediate way. In 1929 he was quickly accepted, backed by the film he had made with Luis Buñuel the previous year, “An Andalusian Dog,” and also by a series of paintings that represented a true liberating medium for the artist’s anxieties and traumas, of which there were many. Dalí quickly became the maximum representative of one of the currents of surrealism, the figurative, which was based on the representation of normal appearances, using the conventions of Renaissance perspective, but subjecting the objects to completely absurd and delirious associations and relationships, and obtaining as a result radically dreamlike works, endowed with a great power of emotion and amazement.
Undoubtedly, the stage that Dalí spent within the surrealist movement was the painter’s most creative and original. It was when he painted his greatest works, putting into practice in them what he himself called his paranoiac-critical method, defined by the painter as a vehicle or spontaneous means of irrational knowledge, based on the interpretative-critical association of delirious phenomena, and which he would express in the association paranoiac=white, and critical=hard, as his brilliant painting The Persistence of Memory very well demonstrates, where the spatial elements appear represented as hard, and the temporal ones, in this case the clocks, as soft or melted figures. They are images produced, not so much by the effect of the dream, as by the lucid search to photograph the dream itself. They will be paintings dominated by an immediate taste for the sickly and repulsive, for obsessions of a sexual nature closely linked to Freud’s conclusions. His brushes capture a deformed and aberrant world, of elements repeatedly repeated in endless extensions of land, illuminated by a burning and dazzling light, achieving scenes imbued with disquiet and mystery.
All these characteristics are perfectly reflected in works such as The Gloomy Game (a work dedicated to the theme of castration), The Great Masturbator, The Invisible Man, Partial Hallucination, Six Apparitions of Lenin on a Piano (in which we find Dalí’s compositional clarity together with a delirious fantasy of the subconscious, centered on a repeated face of Lenin).
|“The Great Masturbator”|
Finally, in 1934 he was expelled from the surrealist movement by André Breton himself, tired of the Catalan painter’s continuous eccentricities and his somewhat retrograde technique. Nevertheless, Dalí maintained the practice of explicit surrealism for several more years. When analyzing Dalí’s work and career, it should never be forgotten that the determining factor in his paintings is his own egocentric character, prone to obsessive exaggeration.
The painter’s arrival in the surrealist ranks had greatly revitalized the movement, thanks to the great novelty that his constant inventions represented for the public, which were also expressed with a realistic language that allowed him to describe the psychic world of our century in totally everyday terms (telephones, clocks, pianos). However, and although surrealism always relied on the total freedom of expression of its artists, Salvador Dalí’s peculiar personality, extravagant and eager for the limelight, soon led him to withdraw from the group in order to maintain an independent activity and thus be the only and exclusive character in his fabulous artistic world, the only center of attention and gravitation.
The works of the years prior to the Second World War were characterized by delving even deeper into his personal paranoiac-critical method, creating a particular, hallucinatory, phantasmagoric and delirious world, in which Dalí not only sought to achieve verisimilitude but also dissimilarity, making apparently irreconcilable objects coincide. Perhaps his best known work of this time was Construcción blanda con habichuelas cocidas: premonición de la guerra civil, a truly prophetic painting in which the strange limbs of the figure depicted symbolize the horror of the violence caused by the war. The triviality of the first part of the title contrasts with the great emotional impact produced by its contemplation, although the artist remained aloof from any definite political attitude.
In 1948, Dalí returned to Spain after a long stay in the United States of America. Salvador Dalí, who had always flaunted his sacrilegious, revolutionary and blasphemous character, surprised both friends and strangers with the surprising statement of becoming an apostolic and Roman Catholic, as well as a fervent admirer of Francisco Franco and a follower of the most traditional ways of painting. At this time, Dalí turned to renewing his never hidden admiration and devotion to the great geniuses of universal painting, such as Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, Vermeer and Velázquez. He thus initiated a new phase that some critics have described as mystical and pseudo-classical. This surprising religious phase, full of mysticism and meditation, was characterized by focusing on the great themes of Christianity, reflected in works such as The Madonna of Port Lligat, The Crucified of St. John of the Cross, St. James the Apostle, The Last Supper…. In all these works we can see how the previous hallucinatory visions give way to a pseudo-academic conception defined by a precise realism and a meticulous technique that allowed Dalí to show his unquestionable worth as a draughtsman. However, he never completely abandoned the symbolic language, as an indelible trace of his surrealist past. Dalí, at this time, disdained anecdotal elements to present us with scenes devoid of details, where above all a deep mystical feeling prevailed, enhanced by a clear and luminous light. These compositional details gave his new paintings an unreal and divine aspect.
From the 1960s onwards, Dalí entered a final period in which, his inventive genius exhausted, he fell into the repetition of his previous aesthetic formulas, and in which his shameless interest in commercialization detracted from the validity of most of his artistic production. Critical interest in his work gradually diminished due to a laborious academic vacuum that distanced him from modernity. In any case, his activity was incessant in painting, book illustration and jewelry design. Dalí always maintained his popularity, boosted by the various retrospective exhibitions dedicated to him with the inauguration of the Dalí Museum in Figueras, and by his admission to the French Academy of Fine Arts, as well as by the continuous self-publicity that the artist himself made in all kinds of media, through increasingly implausible performances that continued to feed the myth that he already was.
The last years of his life were dedicated to what the artist himself called hypertereoscopic and four-dimensional painting. A long illness ended his life on January 23, 1989, at his home in Figueras.
|Dalí Museum in Figueras, Spain|
The first pictorial manifestation of Salvador Dalí’s talent dates back to 1915, when, at the age of eleven, he painted Dutch Interior, a subject taken from a postcard, where he revealed an uncommon talent. The painting was made with true instinct, with a diffuse brushstroke but capable of building the forms, its warm atmosphere, the essence of the scene. In 1922 he painted Still Life, where Dalí already represented a world and a reality influenced by the great masters of avant-garde painting of the time, such as Cézanne, who inspired him to shape this work. Dalí tried to capture the sensibility of the impressionists, the technique of pointillism, very much in vogue at the time, and even made some sketches of what would later become futurism and fauvism. In this period of transition, Dalí drank from all possible sources, modern or past, that had traveled through Europe.
In 1923 he painted his Cabaret Scene, another example of this stage of trial and error, but one of trial and error charged with absolute dexterity. The work was already fully imbued with the atmosphere of Central European expressionist Dadaism. With this painting Dalí demonstrated his determination to join the radical avant-garde that was shaking Europe. That same year he also painted Cubist Self-Portrait, in which he hastily tried to condense the teachings provided by his contact with the brilliant painter from Malaga, Pablo Picasso, and with Braque, but also with the Italian Severini, who had practiced Futurism in Italy and Cubism in Paris. In this work, Dalí perfectly combined volume, form and movement. As will be observed, Salvador Dalí seemed to be a real sponge when it came to feeding on any artistic movement that interested him.
Between 1924-27, Dalí experimented with the so-called verist painting, in works such as Portrait of his father and Portrait of Luis Buñuel, where he executed hard contours, cold and distancing colors, objective, but full of a strange seduction; all this as a legacy of German Magic Realism or the melancholic metaphysical landscapes that Italian painters were offering after the Futurist turmoil.
In the same year 1927, Dalí again gave a twist to his style, painting his cubist Still Life in the Moonlight. In this work Dalí captured the terminal phase of Cubism, when it was already drifting towards a valuation of color and large decorative surfaces to the detriment of pure line. But, at the end of that same year, Dalí came face to face with Surrealism. With works such as Honey is Sweeter than Blood, Cinderella, Inaugural Chicken Meat and Apparatus and Hand, Dalí demonstrated his determination to explore all possible paths of sensibility through Surrealism. They are paintings full of soft, bloody forms, floating in an atmosphere of terrifying diaphanousness. Bony or visceral, putrefying forms also abounded. All these works constitute the birth of a plastic mythology product of his own obsessions and childhood dreams, allied with the visual information about painters such as Ives Tanguy or Giorgio de Chirico provided by magazines. In 1928 he painted The Rotten Donkey, which also reflected one of his recurring themes, made with a sensibility closer to abstraction and the valuation of the “material”, which shows the influence of some of the works of the surrealist Max Ernst.
In 1929 he painted The Great Masturbator, a work that represents his artistic maturity. The ability to instrumentalize the sensations, the torment of conventional morality or the association of images that Freudian psychoanalysis was consecrating is prodigious. Dalí carried this transformation not only into painting, but also in his literary writings, in his different cinematographic participations and in his work as an agitator in conferences, events and exhibitions. His individual exhibitions or his participation in the programmatic exhibitions of Surrealism multiplied during the thirties. Dalí was an unsurpassed master at bringing to the surface the different visual mythologies that still remained in the cultural consciousness of the West, thus associating his painting with the most intimate part of ourselves. Works such as William Tell, The Invisible Man, Man with an Unhealthy Complexion Listening to the Sound of the Sea, perfectly reflected many of these universal myths.
In 1929, Dalí had a meeting with Paul Eluard and his wife Gala that would decisively mark the artistic and vital later trajectory of the Catalan painter. Eluard and Gala were two keys that would open the door to the future. The former was the key to his access to the surrealist group; the latter, the key to all his later life. That same year he immortalized them in two portraits. Eluard was immersed in a pool of symbols, among which his mask-self-portrait, the lion of the libido, the tingling desire of ants or the lobster visualizing the contact prior to orgasm surround him with an atmosphere charged with premonitions. Symbols very similar to those that appear in the portrait of Gala, significantly entitled Imperial Monument to the Woman-Child, which shows a Gala destined to redeem the painter of his childhood obsessions, embodied by all those recurring forms that, over time, forged a universal language. The full realization of all these obsessions, especially those of a sexual nature, was shown by Dalí in two of his masterpieces, The Gloomy Game and Tower of Pleasure, which depict a Dalinian sexuality that is always painful, frustrated, unsatisfied and difficult to calm down. Ejaculation, masturbation, unsatisfied and terrified desire that is not capable of turning away from the repugnance-attraction for everything putrid, for blood and even for excrement and for a voracity of a quasi-cannibalistic type. They are paintings made with an unsurpassed mastery, with an incredible technique on light, which he learned from the Flemish painters he studied during his student stay in Madrid, visiting the Prado Museum. They are phantasmagoric images, yes, but executed with an impressive and impeccable verism. In 1931 he painted perhaps his most famous painting, The Persistence in Memory, with a Dalí metamorphosed into the great masturbator who sleeps placidly at the foot of several soft clocks.
Although not transparently committed to the drama that was unfolding in Spain, due to the Civil War, Dalí could not help but feel in his painting the tension of the coming moment and the horror of a feud between brothers. His Soft Construction with Baked Beans: Premonition of Civil War, from 1937, had already been announced in previous compositions or sketches by the painter, dating from 1934, which give visual form to all the tension accumulated in Spanish society at the time, as is the case with his other work Autumn Cannibalism, from 1936-37.
In 1937 he painted The Enigma of Hitler, a work in which the painter showed the ethical direction from which Dalí would interpret the surrounding world. Dalí took the rise of German National Socialism only by the aesthetic, morbid way, without showing any political significance. In The Endless Enigma, from 1938, Dalí made, if possible, his most complex and delirious anamorphic composition. The canvas shows Freud, Gala, a dog, a horse, a reclining figure, a mandolin and other multiple forms, intertwining without solution of continuity on the scenery of the landscape. It is an authentic paranoid-associative delirium taken to its ultimate consequences. The importance of the work was demonstrated in the numerous versions of the work. With Atómica melancolía (Atomic Melancholy), painted in 1945, Dalí showed one of the few moving glimpses of the terrifying spectacle of the conflict. The painting directly alludes to the nuclear bombings and their consequences on the defenseless civilian population. The baseball allusion is to America; the spheres bursting like pestilent buboes refer to the men themselves. Finally, the melancholic face of the central figure composes his features with the silhouette of a bombing, wrapped in a climate of total destruction, with the clock-time turned into painful sex. The painting seems to be a kind of altar dedicated to the disappearance of the human race. This is perhaps Dalí’s most pessimistic and withdrawn period.
|“The Enigma of Hitler” by Salvador Dalí|
The pomegranate was always a fruit whose image was a constant source of disquiet for Dalí, as is shown in his 1944 work Dream caused by the flight of a bee around a pomegranate, where it is the interior itself that opens up completely, it is sex that liberates hidden passions and shows the voracity, ferocity and punctual coldness of a hurtful penetration of the hidden conscience.
In Dalí’s career, The Basket of Bread, painted in 1945, marked a reencounter with the origin and with the timeless tradition. It is from this period on that his painting recovers descriptive rigor and verisimilitude, momentarily moving away from surrealist deformations. “Leda atómica,” painted in 1949, is an idolatrous portrait of Gala, a capital work of this moment of transformation, after which his painting will trace the myths of the classical world, of the geometric and symbolic thought of the Renaissance, of the rigor of the optical laws, symbolized in some way by those planoconvex lenses. His beloved Gala had definitely become the painter’s only moral and religious reference point. Dalí turned with true fervor to the mystical and the classical, as in the work The Virgin of Port Lligat, from 1949, which is nothing but a precise portrait of his venerated Gala, idolatry of the real on the one hand, morbid sexualization of the religious on the other, in a risky fusion of opposing concepts. His Raphaelesque exploding head, from 1951, is one of the best examples of this use of symbolic elements of the dazzling culture of the Italian Renaissance. The head is transparent and we see an interior centrifuging that alludes to the half-orange dome with coffers, a crucial element of the architectural thought of the great classicists.
Dalí, imbued with a classicist and mystical atmosphere, never completely forgot his surrealist vagaries, as in the case of his explosive painting Young virgin self-sodomized by the horns of her own chastity, from 1954, where he took up the theme of the girl leaning out of the window, but with a spectacular erotic charge. The theme of the rhinoceros horn, with a popular tradition of aphrodisiac substance, serves for a visual carom between thigh-horn-penis-anal masturbation-floating in space. It is a kind of ironic counterpunch in times of that imperial and monarchical Catholicism with which he provoked the public in the definition of himself.
In 1954 he painted his “Crucifixion,” “Hypercubic Body,” a work in which he demonstrated an impeccable realization of academic virtuosity. It is a spatial and profound Christ, floating on an obsessively geometrical cross. Gala appears at the foot of Calvary, superimposing on herself the roles of the Virgin and St. John the Evangelist in a kind of bisexual synthesization.
The idea of death was always present in Dalí’s aesthetic and intellectual ideology. In 1954 he painted “Zurbarán’s Skull,” a tribute to the great painter from Extremadura, further connecting even more with the constants of traditional Spanish mysticism, whose clichés Dalí shamelessly exploited during those years. In Portrait of my dead brother, from 1963, Dalí painted his brother, who died before he was born, also transforming him into a myth on which he reflects the region of death, doubly distressing, because it means the disappearance of that which has not even been known.
His work My Naked Wife Watching Her Own Body Turn into Stepping Stones, Three Vertebrae of a Column, Sky and Architecture, painted in New York in 1945, was auctioned in December 2000 at Sotheby’s in London for 779 million pesetas. An anonymous buyer paid the highest sum ever for a work by the artist.
Dalí and the other fine arts.
Undoubtedly, painting was the backbone of Salvador Dalí’s artistic activity. But from his earliest years, he channeled the expression of his ideas, his aesthetic sensations, or even the publicity of his own existence as an artist, through the most diverse cultural formulas.
Poetry, prose, autobiographical, theoretical or manifesto texts, such as the Catalan Anti-artistic Manifesto (1928), were written media that he cultivated with fruition. He wrote “Posición moral del superrealismo”, “El asno podrido” and “Ensueños”, articles published in 1930 and 1931 in the magazines Helios and El superrealismo al servicio de la revolución, as well as several more in the magazine Minotauro. He also wrote novels and poetry, always within the framework of Superrealism, with titles such as Vida secreta (1942), Rostros ocultos (1944) and El mito trágico del Ángelus de Millet (1963).
In November 2003, the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation began publishing the complete literary works of Salvador Dalí in eight volumes. After the first two volumes, dedicated to the painter’s autobiographical work, the third volume appeared in September 2004, dedicated to his poetry, narrative work and texts for theater and cinema. In December 2005 the news was published that the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation had purchased a manuscript of a previously unpublished play based on the tragic myth of Millet’s Angelus and entitled Admosféric-Animals-Tragédie; it is a stage version of his paranoiac-critical interpretation of Millet’s work, and whose protagonists are a mother and her son who talk about their sexual perversions].
He also cultivated the three-dimensional arts, either under the traditional concept of sculpture or composing objects in the manner of the Dadaists and Surrealists. He was also dedicated to design in all its extension: furniture, jewelry, perfume and beverage containers, advertising posters…. As for graphic arts, his production was overflowing, with engravings, book illustrations and lithographs.
A separate and fundamental chapter was Dalí’s participation in the world of show business, for which he created sets and costumes for numerous plays, operas and ballets. His participation in the cinema, for which he collaborated with such important figures as his friend Luis Buñuel, the Marx Brothers, Hitchcock and even Walt Disney, is especially noteworthy. These contributions to cinema were brief and sporadic, but they left a great mark on the so-called seventh art, with unforgettable milestones such as the surrealist film par excellence that he filmed with Buñuel in 1929, Un perro andaluz. Precisely to highlight Dalí’s relationship with cinema, the Society for Cultural Commemorations, the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation and Talent Television produced in 2004 (coinciding with the centenary of the artist’s birth) a feature film entitled Dalimatógrafo, which showed the evolution of this relationship from his childhood to his obsession in the last years of his life to capture everything on celluloid.
Dalí and Surrealism
Despite the numerous surrealist artists and the richness and variety of nuances of the movement, among the general public the work of Salvador Dalí has always been, if not the most outstanding, then one of the most identified with surrealism. Therefore, if any of the contributions and stages of the protagonists of this crowded and popular “ism” of the historical avant-garde deserve some insistence and clarifications (which at the same time illustrate the importance and transcendence of his presence and opportunity in the group), it is undoubtedly that of the aforementioned Catalan painter, especially the one he produced during the period in which he was linked to the Parisian surrealist group, which in artistic terms was the most epic and daring moment of the painter. Chronologically, this period spanned from his arrival in Paris in 1929 to his definitive expulsion from the group, which took place ten years later. It is therefore necessary to recapitulate some lines about the baggage with which he started out and the unstoppable trajectory of Dalí, which was already in sight before that moment.
From Madrid to Paris
Dalí, coming from the Catalan bourgeoisie, had arrived in Madrid at the age of seventeen to train. He settled in the prestigious Residencia de Estudiantes, where he lived, as mentioned before, with Federico García Lorca, Luis Buñuel, José Moreno Villa and other restless creators, and entered the School of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, from where he was definitively expelled in 1926. At the same time, in 1925, he had participated in Madrid in the important Exhibition of Iberian Artists, where the incipient Spanish avant-garde received its first really significant and transcendent impulse, and had held his first solo exhibition at the Dalmau Gallery in Barcelona, to travel the following year (after the expulsion) to Paris, where he visited Picasso. Meanwhile, Dalí’s meteoric career assimilated the most diverse local and foreign influences (impressionism, ultraism, cubism, futurism, Italian metaphysics, etc.) until it led to surrealism.
|Dalí During His Days in “La Residencia de Estudiantes” (Madrid)|
In 1927 he exhibited in Barcelona “La miel es más dulce que la sangre” (Honey is sweeter than blood), considered his first surrealist work and, the following year, he published with Sebastià Gasch and Lluis Montanyà the Manifest groc or Manifest antiartístic catalá, in which he attacked the traditional Catalan culture in favor of the esprit nouveau and modernity, although at the end of the year he returned to Paris, where he came into contact with the surrealists and collaborated with Buñuel in the script of the film Un chien andalou (An Andalusian dog).
Thus, in that emblematic 1929, in the midst of the scandal caused by the presentation of this pioneering film (a masterpiece of surrealism) and the celebration at the Galerie Goemans of his first individual Parisian exhibition (where he hung such striking works as The Great Masturbator, The Gloomy Game, The Illuminated Pleasures or The Accommodations of Desire), Dalí finally settled in the Gallic capital and became fully integrated into the surrealist group.
The Parisian surrealist scene: from Dalí’s triumphal entry to his final expulsion
The famous year in which Barcelona and Seville inaugurated, respectively, the Universal and Ibero-American Exhibitions (see Universal Exposition); in which in New York the stock market crash (see Crisis of 1929) and the opening of the Museum of Modern Art gave way, on the one hand, to an acute economic depression (soon exported to Europe) and, on the other, to the museum sanctioning of avant-garde art; In 1929, then, the year in which the Surrealists published their Second Manifesto of Surrealism in Paris; that 1929, which put an end to the apparently happy, frivolous and excessive twenties, was also the year of Salvador Dalí’s establishment in Paris and of his inclusion in the select group of French Surrealists.
The Figueres-born artist was endorsed for these surrealists by a highly disturbing individual exhibition, such as the one he had inaugurated in November at the aforementioned Goemans gallery, presenting works of great impact, such as The Great Masturbator, one of the most talked about and best known. The outstanding public success of this exhibition, moreover, had been supported by a great preceding scandal: Dalí, in charge of the script, together with Luis Buñuel, who was in charge of the direction, had opened in October of that year, at Studio 28, the convulsive and surprising film Un chien andalou, considered (it must be insisted) as the first and most successful surrealist film. Dalí, with this, already had a clear step among the Parisian surrealists and did not take long to give a great revitalizing turn to surrealism with the concretion of what he called the “paranoiac-critical method”.
Indeed, the French surrealist group, by this time, was in a double crisis, both aesthetic and moral, and the arrival of Dalí in this context put an end to what has been called the “reflective period” of the movement, which had occupied the second half of the twenties. However, thanks to the aforementioned paranoiac-critical method he developed, the Figueres-born artist opened new investigative perspectives to the surrealism of the 1930s; although, on the moral side, the rise of fascism and the tense international political situation experienced throughout the new decade, which called more than ever for commitment and intellectual and artistic politicization, only aggravated the situation and the divisions within the group.
That is to say, on the aesthetic and artistic side, although the options offered by the movement were varied, from the first collective exhibition of the surrealists, held at the Pierre gallery in Paris in 1925, as observed by the pope of surrealism himself, André Breton, the paths that opened up were fundamentally two: psychic automatism and the expression of dreams, which have since become the two great compartments into which the work of the movement’s protagonists has traditionally been divided, although in reality both encompass a wide range of possibilities.
Thus, along the path of automatism, in addition to the adaptation of literary and plastic society games (such as, from 1925, the so-called “exquisite corpse” by the surrealists, based on chance and the playful factor to transcend reality and explore the unsuspected and consisting of the joint realization of a phrase or drawing through juxtaposed individual contributions, without mutual knowledge or prior program), without mutual knowledge or previous program), among the long and striking career of new methods developed, the early works of André Masson stand out, who in the winter of 1923-1924 produced a series of pencil and pen drawings (and, later, some “sand” paintings) that are among the most purely automatic works of surrealism. But also Max Ernst, after his experiences with collage, in 1925 discovered the technique of frottage (consisting of rubbing with a charcoal or pencil on a piece of paper to register the texture of the material, which had previously been placed underneath, and thus achieve an unpublished image), insisting on the analogy of this method with that of automatic writing. In addition, his experiences with this procedure led him to discover, around 1927, the grattage or scraping (a technique based on spreading on a pictorial surface several layers of color, which once dry are scraped capriciously, obtaining unexpected forms defined by the stratified coloring and the abrupt final texture). In 1942, culminating his research based on the principles of automatism, he even invented the technique he called oscillation (he let paint drip onto the canvas from a perforated can balanced on a rope), anticipating dripping and American action painting. However, many other techniques that emerged in the thirties were already being explored at that time, since the Spaniard Óscar Domínguez had invented in 1935 the decalcomania (by means of which two papers or canvases impregnated with unctuous paint were compressed, producing unexpected and interesting images when they were separated); the Austrian Wolfgang Paalen, two years later, had found the technique of fumage (consisting of passing the smoke of a candle over a freshly painted surface and then interpreting with the brush the traces left by the smoke) or Esteban Francés, also Spanish, from 1937 had perfected the procedure of grattage (Ernst only used it to obtain certain effects of matter and to transfer the effects of frottage in drawing to oil painting; but it was French, who used a razor blade to work the upper layer of paint, so that in the lower ones unforeseen forms emerged, creating glitter and iridescence, who credited it as an exhaustive method of automatic origin).
In the same way, automatism served some of these painters and others, as is especially evident in the case of Joan Miró, to free their work from the constraints of the orthodoxly figurative style and delve into the world of dreams and children’s and popular fantasy. However, we must also consider, as Miró’s own production shows, as it happens throughout the production of Max Ernst or Jean Arp, also members of the Parisian surrealist group, that the path of automatism and that of dreams cannot be rigidly delimited in surrealist art, since sometimes they are mixed even in the same work, or their amalgamation can be seen in the artist’s production as a whole, which presents different stages marked by one or the other path.
In spite of these nuances, along with automatism, another option was also evident among surrealist artists: “dream painting” or its equivalent of the concretion of irrationality, executed through a predominant illusionist technique. This does not mean that these creators limited themselves to waging war on wakefulness or reason, and then merely transcribing the world of dreams or the unconscious. A clear case of the richness of this path was the painting of Yves Tanguy, who joined the group in 1925 and whose characteristic landscapes, more than conveying dreams, seemed to try to bring to the canvas the reverie of interior panoramas. Also, within this surrealist domain, the painting of René Magritte, who joined the surrealists two years later, is disconcerting. It is not a question now, as in Tanguy, of particular reveries, but of questioning the bases on which the relationship between the painted and the real is sustained and underlining, through surprise or juxtaposition, its incongruities. However, although he joined the surrealists when the decade was coming to an end, it is undoubtedly Dalí’s work that best reflects, with its careful illusionist realism (perfectly conjugated with his fundamental renovating contribution of the aforementioned “paranoiac-critical method”, which will now be discussed), this path of surrealism in its double aspect of “dream” and “irrationality”; having even managed to make his work the one most identified with the movement by the general public.
Summing up, then, at the end of the second half of the twenties, the world of surrealist images, at first sight, seemed to have developed its research and concretized its results in two branches, which divided it. On the one hand, the more organic or biomorphic images, coming from the experimentation with automatism and spontaneous reactions (as in the work of Masson, Miró and most of Max Ernst), whose logical course seemed to be directed towards abstraction. On the other, the branch of realism or naturalism, more descriptive and representational, whose research had been focusing on the world of dream images and visual metaphors (as in the production of Tanguy, Magritte or Dalí) and which would open the way to the exploration of future figurative options. The majority of the public identified the creations of the latter more with surrealism than those of the former; however, in the face of the realist insistence, the impetus, freedom and strength of the former option lent a greater creative base to expressionist abstraction, which would not take long to arrive and impose itself.
In any case, at that moment, when the decade of the twenties was coming to an end, both ways, thematically and technically, seemed to have reached the limit of what they could give of themselves, plunging surrealist art into a real crisis, in need of new formulas and revitalizing ideas that would come from the hand of the new members incorporated into the Parisian surrealist group. It was at this opportune moment that Salvador Dalí’s arrival, already mentioned, took place.
But his most important contribution to the movement was not the triumphal entry brought by the film and the 1929 exhibition, but the innovation brought by his “paranoiac-critical” method, defined from then on. The newcomer and his proposals quickly acted on the surrealist artistic formulas and habits as a true revulsive. Dalí, in essence, proposed with his new method, based on the adaptation of the works on paranoia of the young psychiatrist Jacques Lacan, to replace the passive condition of the self-induced hallucinations, driven by the surrealists, by the active and paranoid action of the mind, which would extract from the unconscious images of such great force that, in turn, they would have repercussions on it. That is to say, it was necessary to convert the general irrationality of dreams and automatic processes into the concrete and systemic irrationality of the paranoid delirium that survives the dream and is projected into reality.
Paranoiac-critical activity, defined by Dalí himself as “a spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the interpretative-critical association of delirious phenomena,” incorporated into surrealist creation the potential of new delirious aspects and symbolic evocation, which also made possible analogies and unexpected transpositions. Hence the openness to innovative surrealist experiences not only in painting, but also in the field of object production, the setting of spaces or enclosures and filmmaking. However, risks were also taken, such as the accusation of originating creations that were too “literary” or the political and ideological transgressions that Dalí himself was the protagonist of.
But the crisis of surrealism, upon the arrival of the painter from Figueres, was twofold, as mentioned above, and also had a moral aspect. Within the latter, the question of the group’s political commitment, as could not be otherwise in a decade and with such strongly politicized members, was the most important and one of the main problems within the group. In fact, it was quite difficult to combine the dual surrealist objective of exploring and liberating the creative unconscious, on the one hand, and formulating a policy of practical action aimed at improving society, on the other. In fact, since the mid-1920s, when the surrealists had begun to participate in the political activities of the French left-wing (almost all of them had been moving towards communism), the question of political action was the main source of disputes within the group.
Indeed, in 1926, Breton had published in Paris a pamphlet entitled Légitime défense, in which he affirmed that surrealism was ready to help the proletarian revolution, although he insisted that the surrealists had to preserve their independence. And even though this was not guaranteed, he and several other Surrealists joined the French Communist Party the following year. But, in addition, political events in the Soviet Union itself also came to affect the Surrealists, especially when between 1928 and 1929 the Stalinists expelled Trotsky, admired by Breton and his most direct followers, and Moscow decided to control the activities of the Surrealists, who then reaffirmed their commitment to the Third International and the French Communist Party, giving proof of this with the inauguration of a new stage of what until then had been their organ of expression, the magazine La Révolution Surréaliste, whose last issue was published in December 1929 containing the Second Manifesto of Surrealism. This text, in fact, was a clear reaction to the situation of crisis in which the movement found itself, but a reaction that Breton intended to take advantage of to make an inner purification and a call to political struggle, so that, in relation to the exposure and confirmation of the creative principles, a disproportionate importance was given to the accusations and the questioning of the morality of its members. Consequently, the very title adopted for the publication that would open the new stage of the group was also in line with such approaches: Le Surréalisme au service de la Révolution, highly illustrative of the new direction of “ism”, which, from that moment on, put itself at the service of the revolution, in the double aspect of opposition both to imperialism, in favor of the social, and to the revolutionaries themselves (if necessary) to defend surrealism itself.
In the meantime, divisions within the surrealist group were growing, as its members were often forced to choose not only between the collective experience of the group and that of individual artists, but also between political commitment and creative freedom. Thus, by 1930, as D.D. Egbert (1981, p.284) recalled, the revitalizing incorporation of artists such as Dalí, more concerned with introducing personal methods than revolutionary responsibilities into surrealism, or the position of referents as close to surrealism as Freud, who in that year published his book The Discomfort of Culture (in which he maintained that Marxism was untenable from a psychological point of view), only deepened the divisions. In addition, surrealists such as Louis Aragon and Georges Sadoul, were captured by Stalinist communism and denounced Trotskyism and the idealism contained in Freudianism, which was seen by the group as a betrayal. It was very difficult, however, to avoid taking a stand or to do so and not clash. Hitler’s triumph in Germany in 1933; the formation of the French Popular Front in 1934; the International Congress of Writers in Defense of Culture against Fascism (held in 1935 in Paris, with new editions in London and Valencia in the following years); the outbreak and development of the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939; the German-Soviet pact of 1939; the Second World War; etc., were so many other important events that required the positioning of the surrealists and that, once again, gave rise to confrontations and splits in the face of the forms of action.
On the other hand, in parallel to new incorporations such as Dalí’s, who always had the movement as an unpremeditated regulator of its ranks, the described process of politicization of surrealism, growing since the mid-twenties, in turn gave rise to a process of politicalization of the surrealists, in turn gave rise to a series of expulsions and self-exclusions (generally prompted by Bretonian intransigence and authoritarianism and executed in a passionate and tempestuous manner) that continued throughout the history of the movement, making such actions an integral part of the hallmarks of surrealism. Among the plastic artists, the cases of Masson and Dalí are undoubtedly among those that best exemplify such ruptures.
The first of them dates back to 1928, when André Masson was already distancing himself from the surrealist group, invoking psychological and aesthetic arguments. When, at the beginning of 1929, Breton invited the Surrealists to choose between individual activity and collective political action, some answers, such as Masson’s, already reflected a definitive rupture, violently expressed in the Second Manifesto.
As for Dalí, on the other hand, it was not a matter of self-exclusion, nor would there be an amicable reunion, like the one that brought Breton and Masson back together in 1936. Moreover, the expulsion of the Catalan painter, whose buffoonery even provoked Surrealism itself (a movement so provocative itself), did not actually materialize until 1939, even though he had been tried in 1934. Even before the latter date, the communists had expressed to the surrealist group their suspicions about Dalí’s admiration for Hitler, whose representations of Lenin, moreover, were unorthodox. And, in fact, Dalí, who in 1931 had already evoked the politician in his painting Six Apparitions of Lenin on a Piano, in 1933 produced The Enigma of William Tell (the first part of whose title, in French, played with the pronunciation of Lenin), a work he exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants and in which he showed the Russian leader kneeling, shirtless, wearing a long cap, without pants and with an enormous, elongated buttock resting on a crutch.
This seemed intolerable to Breton, who, despite Dalí’s previous intention to make amends, summoned the group to his studio in February 1934 with a letter that read: “Order of the day: Dalí having been found guilty of various insolences, of counter-revolutionary acts tending to the glorification of Hitlerian fascism, the undersigned [Breton, Ernst, Hérold, Hugnet, Meret Oppenheim, Péret and Tanguy] propose [despite the declaration of January 25] to exclude him from surrealism as a fascist element and to combat him by all means.” The trial gave Dalí the opportunity to stage a large number, which contained a humorous mise-en-scène, with which he intended to defend himself against the accusation by invoking the surrealist character of his interest in Hitler, insisting that he was merely transcribing his dreams. The session thus ended without any agreement and, in the following days, the right-wing Gallic uprising (which ended up being counteracted by the formation in July of the Popular Front) drew the attention of the surrealists, which helped to put Dalí’s expulsion on hold.
This well-known episode in Dalí’s biography is highly illustrative of the situation and the times the surrealists were going through, and whether or not Dalí was up to the circumstances, the fact is that the Figueres-born artist and theoretician had given as much (at least) as he had received from the surrealist group. The latter, certainly, had settled in a permanent crisis, due to those continuous collisions with respect to the political and moral commitment of the movement. Its clearest reflection could be seen both in the difficult relations of collaboration maintained with the French Communist Party (since Breton was opposed to such a close association that would stifle the independence of surrealist action), and in the aforementioned internal divisions and those excommunications promoted by the “pope” of surrealism, although there were always reunions and lax applications, as in the case of Dalí. But, likewise, this background situation was having a brilliant counterbalance with the rejuvenation brought about by some incorporations, starting with Dalí himself, whose joining the surrealist group in 1929 had immediately provoked an authentic subversion of the artistic habits and formulas of the plastic group, survivor of the purges to which it had been subjected.
The central phase of Dalí’s art
During the thirties, then, the central phase of Dalí’s art developed, which also gave rise to the publication of various writings and the participation of texts, illustrations and plastic works in various surrealist publications and exhibitions. However, among Dalí’s varied activity, in 1930 he collaborated again with Buñuel in the film L’Age d’Or, financed by the Viscount of Noailles, whose religious irreverence and hostility to bourgeois values would provoke a new scandal upon its release.
The following year, with his famous little painting The Persistence of Memory (or Soft Watches), Dalí presented a perfect proof of his meticulous illusionist realism and his paranoid inventions. Through virtuosity in figurative technique and the bewilderment and transmutation of substances and their function, with the unusual ideation and presentation of the state and context of this everyday machinery, he animated, distorted and confused in an image, with dreamlike intentions, the organic and the inanimate, presenting as a visual truth the image of unexpected clocks that adapted to the “furniture” of a landscape as imaginary as it was evocative of Cadaqués. A landscape that also inserted Dalí’s obsessive fixations, already present in The Great Masturbator, The Gloomy Game or the Portrait of Paul Éluard, such as the ants in one of the clocks or the head resting its nose against the ground, both allusive to his obsession with death and putrefaction, the other (through the aforementioned 1929 canvases) coming from previous self-portraits in profile, which marked new autobiographical implications.
It is true that Dalí always manifested his obsession for softness and organic distortions, whose presence became almost a constant in his production during these years. This was the case, for example, in Construcción blanda con habichuelas hervidas. Premonition of the Civil War (1936), a remarkable work in which he placed procedure and obsession at the service of the monumental representation of the horrors that the conflict to which its subtitle alludes would soon give rise. Nevertheless, it is no less true that Dalí’s painting as a whole was (and is) too premeditated and intellectualized to come merely from hallucination and delirious phenomena. In reality, this painting corresponded to a deliberate staging of Dalí’s own psychological state, induced by his own readings and knowledge of psychology.
It would be difficult, otherwise, to see outside this framework another obsession, such as that of the sexual relationship, widely present in the Dalinian production. Thus, both in his works on Millet’s Angelus, which the Figueres-born artist interpreted as an image of repressed sexuality, and in those referring to the legend of William Tell, understood by this same artist as a myth of castration, Dalí provided us with the interpretative key to his unconscious with too much evidence not to suspect the degree of consciousness of the representation. On the other hand, the vision of double or multiple images in the same representation, as among other works occurs in his oil painting Slave Market with the Invisible Bust of Voltaire (1940), where several central figures of the scene, in turn, form the bust of the philosopher, owes more to the artist’s visionary capacity and the preparation of its re-presentation as a true reality than to a rigorous application of the paranoiac-critical method, to which Dalí attributed them.
His influence and other findings and contributions
His painting, there is no doubt, was a cultural, intellectualized product. Even so, both his method, placed at the service of dreamlike searches, and later his style, highly naturalistic (especially after his decision, at the end of the thirties, to reinforce his classicism), exerted a great influence throughout the decade on other young painters, such as his compatriots Esteban Francés and Óscar Domínguez. However, in addition to style and method (although partly due to the latter), among his most relevant contributions to surrealism, we must also highlight his “objects” and the ability he offered to interpret this type of work through its “symbolic function”. Some of them were exhibited in 1936, in the important Exposition surréaliste d’objets at the Galerie Charles Ratton in Paris, carried out with the intention of taking collective stock, in the field of the possibilities of surrealist sculpture, and which marked the moment in which this type of pieces began to reach true international echo.
That is to say, in relation to painting and its environment, sculpture and its environment had their own problems, but they found their own specific answers. Surrealism took longer to discover the oneiric, the random, the free association or the automatic procedure in a sculpture than in a painting. The process of exploration that brought three-dimensional forms to a level of equality (at least) with that of other surrealist manifestations, such as poetry or painting, was, therefore, somewhat slower, although constant and of as much or greater importance and transcendence than in the rest of the creative manifestations of the movement. However, this process, in reality, came from further away, being intimately linked to the new understanding of the “object” and the new consideration of its artistic entity.
In this sense, therefore, it must be remembered that, like collage, the incorporation of the “object” into the creative world, regardless of its material realization, had begun on the eve of the First World War. Pablo Picasso, in 1912, had made his Brass Guitar and, a year later, Marcel Duchamp had executed his Bicycle Wheel. In the work of the former, although there was much irony, the identification with what was understood by artistic creation persisted, but in the ready-made of the latter, that is (according to Duchamp’s own definition of this type of creation), in the “usual object promoted to the dignity of an art object by the simple choice of the artist,” it went much further. Duchamp, despite using these objects as anti-art (rather than as art, in the traditional sense), proclaimed that art was a matter of definition and that creation could also occur in the very act of manipulating or decontextualizing objects, things or ideas. Since then, the history of the object moved between these two conceptions, until surrealism, with its juxtapositions and its poetics of the unusual and the incongruous, managed to unite both positions in a magnificent synthesis: the so-called “surrealist object”.
The surrealism of the thirties did nothing more than assume and complement the previous line of thought regarding the object, especially the Dadaist one. It made use of the objet trouvé or “found object”, that is, it creatively made use of discarded, surprising or decontextualized materials or objects, and reused them with the intention of broadening the field of relationships and imagination in art. The objet trouvé thus became an essential foundation for the definition of the surrealist object, which, in turn, was the most important contribution of this movement to sculpture, representing a new advance in the line of exploration of object art, which would indeed reach a great development a few decades later.
Public awareness of these surrealist investigations, however, did not really become palpable until March 1926, when the Galerie Surréaliste in Paris presented the exhibition Tableaux de Man Ray et Objets des Iles, where for the first time paintings of Dada spirit and primitive works from Oceania, whose “indecency” scandalized the press and excited the avant-garde world, were exhibited together. The surrealist poetics of the unusual was already underway. Perhaps because of this success, in December of the same year, the magazine La Révolution Surréaliste announced an exhibition of “surrealist objects” which, in reality, took more than ten years to arrive. During these years, however, the theoretical activity continued to advance and to define the wide expectations that this type of creation opened up to the surrealist world.
Thus, in December 1931, Le Surréalisme au service de la Révolution published Dalí’s text “Objets surréalistes: catalog général”, in which he described five objects of “symbolic functioning”, created by Albert Giacometti, Valentine Hugo, Breton, Gala Éluard and himself (in the framework of the reflection he also included Tanguy and Miró), besides offering illustrations of objects devised by them. The systematization proposed here by the Figueres-born artist divided the surrealist object into different categories, although he considered that all of them, in general, represented a weapon “against dream narratives and automatic writing”. But, in reality, what Dalí pursued was the renewal of the old surrealist methods of automatism through his paranoiac-critical system, which attempted to obviate passivity and repression, defending the aggressive intrusion into the world of desires by means of objects of symbolic functioning.
To such theoretical activity was added that of Breton himself, who both in Brussels and in Prague, in 1934 and 1935, insisted, in writing and in lectures, on the importance of the surrealist object, stressing (in the first capital) the importance of the “found object” and its role as a catalyst in creative elaboration and advancing (in the second) the notion of the “poem-object”. And, continuing his reflection on the object, in 1936 Breton not only expressed his permanent interest in the Duchampian ready-made, but also published a famous text (“Crisis of the Object”, published in issue 1-2 of Cahiers d’art) in which he set the guidelines to carry out the “total revolution of the object”, which he saw as achievable through the transformation of its usual role, so that poetic and mathematical objects, for example, could be considered from the same perspective.
At the same time, in the exhibition line, during the ten years mentioned above, apart from some group shows by the surrealists with an interesting presence of this type of objects interspersed among the paintings, there was little else, although in 1936, at the same time that the aforementioned text by Breton appeared, he conceived the Exposition surréaliste d’objets, held at the Charles Ratton gallery, between May 22 and 29. It was a large exhibition that, without a doubt, can be considered the most important and transcendent one dedicated up to that time by the surrealists to the object in a specific way. Almost two hundred were gathered, grouped (at Breton’s suggestion) into “mathematical”, “natural”, “found and interpreted”, “mobile”, “irrational” and “wild or objects from America and Oceania”, together with those properly called “surrealist”, whose creation had been promoted among the artists by Breton himself. All these objects, whatever their nomination or category, participated in what Eluard defined as the creation of a “physics of poetry”. It was not a question of decorative or utilitarian objects (in fact, any decontextualized object or object without a specific use could be a surrealist object); it was a question of finding its poetic side. From this point on, this type of exhibition began to become more general, as happened in Paris, London, New York and other places, where the presence of Dalinian objects was quite common, although they were not usually absent in any group exhibition dedicated to surrealism.
It should be noted, however, that the discovery of the values of the object was not, on the other hand, something alien to painters and painting. The latter not only witnessed the process of their enhancement, but also built or “found” them themselves and contributed to their diffusion; although sometimes the path was the other way around, since it was these objects or their construction that later inspired painting, as seemed to be deduced from many of the structures represented in Tanguy’s landscapes and in some of Dalí’s, for example. On the other hand, this does not detract from the fact that the productions of these artists, formally and expressively, were often quite dependent on their pictorial ideas, as was the case with certain experiences of Ernst, Miró or Dalí, who created sculptures and staged productions in which they applied strange combinations of elements, materials and images, sometimes coming from their previous pictorial inquiries and sometimes from the application of the values and teachings regarding the object of surrealism, thus influencing other artists in turn. But no matter how many debts were owed to their main activity, the sculptural work of these artists (and especially that of Dalí) should not be considered as a mere incursion of a painter into another medium, since it has enough entity, importance and transcendence to be considered in itself.
Thus, with respect to the extensive production of the Figueres-born artist, we can recall his Objeto escatológico de funcionamiento simbólico (1931), which was reproduced together with the aforementioned Dalí text referring to the surrealist object. It was an articulation of objects (a red high-heeled shoe, a glass of milk, pasta in the form of excrement, three sugar cubes with little drawings of shoes -one of them suspended from a pulley, from which also hung an object of phallic evocation-, pubic hair, a wooden spoon and a small erotic photograph), which in turn appeared displaced from their usual functioning and fulfilling, by means of fetishism and metaphor, a new mission. That is to say, for Dalí, the surrealist object embodied desire and its elements could not be seen separately, since it was in the whole (through substitution and metaphor) that it was objectified. The gathering, then, functioned as a substitute ritual object, to which the obsessions of desire had been displaced.
These mechanisms of objectification of his obsessions were always present in his work, but even so, Dalí was also capable of surprising us by endowing a plaster Venus de Milo with drawers adapted to her body (Venus de Milo de los cajones, 1936), as well as by juxtaposing a lobster to the receiver of a telephone (Teléfono-Homard, 1936); even if such findings (as exponents of obsessions) suffered frequent transpositions within his general production.
On the other hand, we should not forget the frequent Dalinian activity of staging the object itself, works no less important, on many occasions, than his paintings and three-dimensional pieces. Although Dalí later had numerous occasions to design stagings, undoubtedly one of the most important was his Taxi lluvioso, arranged in 1938 at the entrance of the International Exhibition of Surrealism, in which, as in his paintings and sculptures, the incongruity of the objects gathered and of the staging of a situation formed a whole (scene-frame-object) surprising both for the elements of metaphorical objectification and for the unpredictability of its ritual. But what is more, the importance of the occasion is also due to the fact that Dalí had not much time left before his definitive expulsion from the Parisian surrealist group (the limit set for this commentary), and that this exhibition would be the apotheosis of the surrealist movement.
Indeed, the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme of 1938 is undoubtedly considered the most outstanding exhibition of surrealism, in terms of extolling the movement and demonstrating its creative and radiating vitality. It was organized by Éluard and Breton at Georges Wildenstein’s Galerie de Beaux-Arts in Paris, with the help of Georges Hugnet and the scenographic collaboration of Marcel Duchamp, who devised the placement of twelve hundred sacks of coal suspended from the ceiling of the central hall, which also featured a pond with water lilies, four beds in the corners, a brazier in the center, and so on. Dalí offered the visitor the first impact of the exhibition with his Taxi lluvioso (1938, later recreated in the central courtyard of his Theater-Museum in Figueras), which received the visitor in the lobby. It was an old car in which the artist had placed the mannequins of a chauffeur and a blonde passenger in evening dress, seated in the back, among endive, lettuce and other plants on which, in turn, two hundred snails were moving; all watered by a violent downpour inside. Then one entered the gallery through a corridor populated with twenty mannequins that had been dressed by twenty artists (Dalí himself, Tanguy, Masson, Kurt Seligmann, Jean Arp, Óscar Domínguez, Maurice Henry, Man Ray, Duchamp, Miró, Ernst, Roberto Matta, etc.). But, in addition, behind the striking setting, which was what was most surprising, the exhibition included some three hundred paintings, sculptures, objects, collages, photos and drawings by more than sixty artists from fifteen different countries.
Its inauguration, on January 17, and its development, during this and the following month of 1938, was a real event in the Parisian art world; an event that, at the same time, acted as a showcase and springboard for the surrealist movement and its ideas. It was also the occasion for the discovery of some artists, such as the Chilean Roberto Matta or the Anglo-American Gordon Onslow-Ford; for the public revelation of others, such as Victor Brauner, Óscar Domínguez, Wolfgang Paalen, Paul Delvaux, Esteban Francés, Kurt Seligmann, Richard Oelze, etc.; and, finally, for the consecration of Ernst, Masson, Miró, Tanguy, Magritte and Dalí. The success of this exhibition was obvious, and this led to its extension at the Robert Gallery in Amsterdam, in a reduced version managed by Hugnet. In short (and in spite of the crises and rethinking), Dalí had traveled with that surrealist movement (which in 1938 celebrated its stellar moment with this international exhibition) the long and wide road of the 1930s that took the movement and its protagonists from consolidation to splendor.
After that, there was little left for Dalí to do in Paris. Fleeing the war (and in line with what happened to the movement as a whole, which by then was already beginning its phase of international expansion), in 1940 he settled in the United States, where the Figueres-born artist remained for eight years painting, devising theatrical settings, illustrating books and creating a variety of designs. One of his most famous publications, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, dates from that time. In 1948 he returned to Spain and settled in Port Lligat, beginning his “mystical stage” and, in 1974, he inaugurated the aforementioned Theater-Museum in Figueras, in which he not only collected different aspects of his artistic career up to that moment, but also made a true staging of his portentous imagination.
In September 2004, a major retrospective held at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice gathered more than 300 of the artist’s works from 130 collections from all over the world. The exhibition was organized by the Gala-Dalí Foundation. In March 2006, for their part, the Residencia de Estudiantes and the Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno (IVAM) co-published the volume El primer Dalí, 1918-1929, written by historian, poet, critic and editor Rafael Santos Torroella and published four years after his death; it includes a catalog raisonné of one hundred and seventy cards, with an iconographic analysis of the works that represents, in the words of Ricard Mas (Santos Torroella’s collaborator), the “genetic code” of the artist’s early career.
The largest retrospective on Dalí’s work was first presented at the Pompidu Center in Paris, between November 2012 and March 2013, and then at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, between April 27 and September 2, 2013, under the title “Dalí. All the poetic suggestions and all the plastic possibilities.”