Sunday, March 24, 2013

Chaos and Creation

I went back to Paris on Friday afternoon so that I could see the Salvador Dalí exhibit at the Centre Pompidou in its final weekend. I had a ticket, so could go directly to the gallery early on Saturday morning, taking the outside glass-walled tube-enclosed escalator up 150 feet to the top floor with its (hazy that day) panoramic view of the city. The entrance to the gallery was through a rounded space with a heartbeat soundtrack and Philippe Halsman's Mémoire prénatale (1941), a picture of Dalí in a fetal position in an eggshell, projected on the wall. I didn't take pictures at first because there were "no photographs" signs everywhere, but that wasn't stopping a lot of visitors. I came to the conclusion that either (a) no one really cared or (b) only the works with the sign next to them fell under that rule, but still didn't photograph anything on the walls. And most of the works I really liked did have the sign posted anyway. I found links to some images, but for the rest you'll have to head to Madrid next year for the next installation.

My early memories of Dalí are from a coffee table book we had at home, with a gold cover and a lot of explanations about the pictures that I never really read. I was more interested in the oozy timepieces, or the giant horses on stilts, or the creepy hairy fly-infested open-wound body parts that were at once titillating and offputting to a ten-year-old. But I don't remember any pictures I would have classified as "normal" - or else I didn't find them as interesting. But the early works in the exhibit, from the 1920s, weren't oozy or creepy or hairy at all. Portrait de ma soeur and Falaise (1926) are simple, luminous, and beautiful. A series of four or five self-portraits done in that era included the Picasso-influenced Tête (1926). Oiseau...Poisson (1928) gets three-dimensional with sand incorporated into the sweeping curve in the center, and Plage anthropormorphique gets sexy with a red sponge (not painted, according to the information) and a very suggestive finger. And then the weird stuff starts, the hair sprouting everywhere, the severed heads, the pins and needles and dead things and ants and flies and grasshoppers and sex, more sex, the body parts that drew my attention forty years ago and are still fascinating, though not in the same way.

I honestly don't remember all the pictures in that long-ago book (Kate, you have it now, right?) but I don't remember seeing Parfois je crache par plaisir sur le portrait de ma mère (1929), a Shroud-of-Turin-like outline on canvas, or L'homme invisible (1930) or the color-rich Oeufs sur le plat (sans le plat) (1932) that I wanted to take home with me.
La paranoïa se sert du monde extérieur pour faire valoir l’idée obsédante, avec la troublante particularité de rendre valable la réalité de cette idée pour les autres. La réalité du monde extérieur sert comme illustration et preuve, et est mise au service de la réalité de notre esprit.
Occasionally there would be a study or sketch next to a finished work, as with Dormeuse, cheval, lion invisibles (1930), and it was fun to see what was hidden underneath the paint. I liked Ossification matinale du cyprès (1934) and Symbole agnostique (1932) but found the 1932 Phosphène de Laporte very, very disturbing, what with the fangs and the psychotic eyes. Definitely not one of the ones I wanted to take home. But I could live with, and in, Table solaire, and spent a long time studying Apparition d'un visage et d'un compotier sur une plage (1938), because the more I looked at it the more things I saw, until I started to wonder if maybe I was seeing things that the artist didn't even put in there. Which, I think, might be the point.
Dalí played with all sorts of media, including film and stereoscopic images and holograms, but even as he incorporated future technology into his art, he didn't forget the past. His 1979 Aurore, midi, après-midi et crépuscule skips back a hundred years to pointillism. If I could have tucked this half-wall-sized painting under my arm and taken it home, I would have. And I was surprised to see that the famous oozy-timepiece "Persistence of Memory" is actually quite small, just about the size of a laptop computer screen. Vénus de Milo aux tiroirs is a delightful piece of sculpture and Tête nucléaire d'un ange is another mixture of classical forms with modern interpretations.

There were film clips by and about Dalí, including a 1964 television interview in which he is wearing a "veston aphrodisiaque" covered with glasses half-filled with peppermint schnapps and says that if you are going to wear it correctly, each glass should contain a dead fly. I was in the exhibit for about two and a half hours, but that time would have been doubled had I watched all of the videos. Some I just couldn't not watch, like the explanation of the three-dimensional homage to Piet Mondrian, where the blocked-off sections contained live pigs, and a motorcycle, and a woman named Leslie Crane, all of which were alternately covered with popcorn, uncovered, and sprayed with water. And I would have loved to be at the benefit dinner in September 1941, wearing a unicorn's head. But I did incorporate myself into Mae West's face (which may be used as a surrealist apartment).

By the time I left, dizzy from all the Dalí, the line of people waiting just to buy tickets was starting to curve around the plaza, and I was even more glad to have arrived before the exhibit got too crowded. Time to plan a trip to Figueres now, or soon perhaps, or maybe never - hard to tell, with all the grasshoppers in here.
Je réclame une vie dans l’au-delà avec persistance de la mémoire. Je veux bien renoncer aux béatitudes éternelles pourvu que dans l’éternité je me souvienne de tout!

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