Salvador Dalí does not exist.
Ricard Mas, curator of the exhibition
Salvador Dalí does not exist. He disappeared in the infinite distance that separates a pair of moustaches (of impossible physics) from a pair of exorbitant eyes. It is the same space, the same distance that runs —or not— between desire and fear of death, between the universal and the ultramicroscopic, between genius and virtue, or between a secret of only one and its publication in infinite editions.
The Salvador Dalí who created such sublime and world-famous images as the soft melting clocks, the Venus de Milo with drawers, the giraffes with their backs on fire, or the flabby face of The Great Masturbator is a character invented by Salvador Dalí Domènech, citizen of Figueres, born in 1904 and passed away in 1927. In that year he will adopt an artistic language of his own, at the same time that a very thin moustache
appeared on his upper lip. His will, at the tender age of thirty-seven, bears the title The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí.
That public Dalí, a pioneer of postmodernism, goes much beyond the world of art. We should consider him a cultural referent. He was a painter, of course; but also a writer, a maître à penser, a film-maker, an advertising agent, a showman and the author of the big paradigm shift in contemporary art. From Dalí onwards, the work of art is a mere reflection, an emanation of the true and unique work of art: the character of the artist. What would Dalí’s artworks be worth today if we did not know anything about his life?
In an evolutionary sense, Dalí is the necessary link between Leonardo da Vinci and Andy Warhol. Especially his oil painting technique: the patient paint application in thin layers, sometimes with a single-hair brush, as a technical support to exaltations of the power of the atom or of genetic engineering. The dreams, photographed with exasperating attention to detail. Sodomite rhinoceros. Fibonacci cabbages. Etchings
Melancholy and geopolitics together in one plate impossible to digest. And even so, Dalí never stops talking about Dalí. His whole oeuvre is self-referential. In it, we will not find a single gratuitous brush-stroke; maybe improvised, but never gratuitous. And that’s because Dalí is an inclusive universe, according to his famous sentence: “Everything affects me, nothing changes me”.
In this representative selection, the painting which is chronologically older is L’Horta des Llaner (The vegetable garden of Llaner) —the back yard of the Dalí family house in Cadaqués—, from 1921; and the most recent one, which dates from 1977, features Dalí at the window of his house showing Gala how Venus lifts the skin of the Mediterranean Sea.
And between this discovery of the sea in post-impressionist terms, from the family’s home, and the rediscovery in clave three-dimensional terms— the image is part of a study for a stereoscopic painting—, from his own house, there is an adventure that begins to make sense with A Cut Hand, 1927.
It is a guilty hand, daughter of the remorse for his onanistic practices, fruit of the Freudian conflict between Eros and Thanatos; the desire and the fear of death. A conflict that appears for the first time in a painting of 1927, Aparell i mà (Apparatus and Hand), but which we will also find later in his career: in other oil paintings, such as La mà. Els remordiments de consciència, 1930 (The Hand. The Remorse of Conscience), in the art piece Bust de dona retrospectiu, 1933 (Retrospective Bust of a Woman), in the sketches for a film where an abandoned and helpless baby is skewered by a gigantic sewing machine (Sewing machine, 1951), or in the oil painting Transfiguració, 1974 (Tranfiguration), where, over a Baroque painting, Dalí transforms the reflection of a mirror into the old ghost of The Great Masturbator.
However, there is also a less tormented Dalí who arranges his desire in drawers, shoes in strange balance and glasses of warm milk; who sublimates his fears towards expansions apparently lighter, as the classics of world literature or the world of fashion. A Dalí who asks Gala to read him the great literary masterpieces while he devotes dozens of hours to paint patiently. Dalí could never have been an abstract painter. His thought works in images. And, if there are people who can read between
the lines, the double images of Dalí generate enough space to create reasonable doubts in front of what we see. Contemporary critical thought transforms itself into accumulative dilemmas, into conflicting truths that do not cancel each other out, because they simply coexist.
Thanks to this device, Dalí can include in the same canvas Rhinocéros en désintégration (1950) and angelical figures; or allude to Leonardo da Vinci when he explains in his Treatise on painting that a simple stain on a wall can become a battle: in La bataille (1953) Dalí superimposes a wall, in which an egg and a butterfly —symbol of transformation because of its metamorphosis— cast their shadows, on a battle scene
inspired by the Renaissance master.
Dalí is a master at metamorphoses. We can glimpse his face in many representations. For instance, in the composition he creates for the cover of an edition of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, he builds a double figure with two heads: Gala and Dalí as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, paradigms of the most unstoppable desire for power. He can transform a
butterfly collage into a majestic self-portrait —Self-portrait, 1954—, with his hair dyed blonde and a footman holding his long locks of hair.
For Dalí, irony is a way of interpreting the world. Already from his 1927 influential essay on Saint Sebastian, Dalí considers irony —following Heraclitus— as nature’s pleasure of hiding herself. A pleasure like that of the metamorphosis, of the tone gradation in L’art du lavis (1947), or of the unlikely coexistence between geometry and vegetation in Biological garden (1974).
Every metamorphosis implies a temporary ellipsis, a trick of prestidigitation. The female figure of Dream Passage (1976) is the persistent little Caroline, Dalí’s cousin, who died in her early teens playing jump rope among the rocks in the beach of Roses; and he paints her so that in the distance she seems a sort of erotic bell. In the work of Dalí, there is also an element of prefiguration, of anticipation. Images like Des fontaines dans le desert (1967), which belong to the series Aliyah —an homage
to the Israeli people—, build a landscape that refers both to the crowds sketched by Leonardo as to the future pictorial techniques of the most representative postmodern artists.
Salvador Dalí does not exist because he has never ceased to exist. As
Schrödinger’s cat. Therein lies the impossible magic of his metamorphosis.