By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
One of the fascinating, ingenious, and at times amusing aspects of the art of Salvador Dali is how he titled his works.
Some titles are so lengthy, verbose, and convoluted – or just impossible to remember – that alternative titles were adopted to abridge things and liberate writers like me from the laborious task of keystroking their names. Which I’m not sure anyone ever remembers with complete accuracy.
I think Dali chose his titles to further confound us. It added to the confusion he relished. It often injected the sense of humor he possessed, revealed cunningly in his work.
Let’s look at some of his interestingly titled works, spanning the humorous, the sexy, the naughty, the perplexing, the practical, and – to be sure – the long and confounding.
Speaking of long, the large masterwork of 1962, commonly shortened to Perpignan Railway Station (which was the site at which Dali claimed he had an ecstasy about painting in the third dimension), is actually titled:
Gala Look at Dali in a State of Anti-Gravitation in His Work of Art ‘Pop-Op-Yes-Yes- Pompier’ in Which One Can Contemplate the Two Anguishing Characters from Millet’s ‘Angelus’ in a State of Atavistic Hibernation Standing Out of a Sky Which Can Suddenly Burst into a Gigantic Maltese Cross Right in the Heart of the Perpignan Railway Station Where the Whole Universe Must Begin to Converge.
Whew! Need to take a deep breath after that one! It’s Dali’s longest title.
One of his most widely reproduced and important works from his pure surrealism days was one whose title pointed out quite clearly the bizarre scene that was unfolding: Debris of an Automobile Giving Birth to a Blind Horse Biting a Telephone. This was Dali’s uniquely surrealist nod to Picasso’s iconic canvas, Guernica, and was mentioned by Merv Griffin when he introduced Dali as a guest on his show and wanted to amuse his audience with a bizarrely named Dali work.
Sometimes the titles of Dali works defied easy explanation. Three examples: Gala and the Angelus of Millet Preceding the Imminent Arrival of the Conical Anamorphoses; The Weaning of Furniture Nutrition; and Cardinal, Cardinal!
In the just plain naughty category, among many, we have to mention these three: Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by Her Own Chastity; Average French Bread with Two Fried Eggs without the Plate, on Horseback, Trying to Sodomize a Heel of Portuguese Bread; and Atmospheric Skull Sodomizing a Grand Piano. These provocative titles speak for themselves.
But try saying these Dali titles without tripping over your tongue: Assumpta Corpuscularia Lapislazulina. That one’s a mouthful! Yet, when you break it down, you’ve got the assumption of the Virgin (Gala); a corpuscular pattern in the tiny cellular-like particles; and the blue hues of lapis lazuli.
Meanwhile, if Assumpta…is a mouthful, here’s a jaw-breaker: Galacidalacidesoxiribunucleicacid – mercifully also known as Homage to Crick and Watson.
Then there’s a charming title, Two Pieces of Bread Expressing the Sentiment of Love. Aww!
There are also unambiguous titles: The Horseman of Death; The Dream Places a Hand on a Man’s Shoulder; Autumn Cannibalism; Metamorphosis of Narcissus; Sleep; Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach; Slave Market with Disappearing Bust of Voltaire; Group of Women Imitating the Gestures of a Schooner; The Face of War, The Sacrament of the Last Supper; Christ of St. John of the Cross.
And ultra-puzzling titles: Barber Saddened by the Persistence of Good Weather; Honey is Sweeter than Blood; The Average Fine and Invisible Harp; Skull with its Lyric Appendage Leaning on a Bedside Table which Should Be the Exact Temperature of a Cardinal’s Nest; Masochistic Instrument; and, yes, even The Persistence of Memory – whose title no one has been fully comfortable understanding or explaining.
One of the most humorous titles is surely The Chemist of Ampurdan in Search of Absolutely Nothing.
And, since all good titles must come to an end – even though this one makes you wonder if it will ever end – we’ll close with a work commonly known as Apotheosis of the Dollar . . .
. . . but in actuality is titled:
Salvador Dali in the Act of Painting Gala in the Apotheosis of the Dollar in Which You Can See on the Left Marcel Duchamp Masquerading as Louis XIV behind a Vermeerian Curtain Which Actually is the Invisible but Monumental Face of ‘Hermes’ by Praxiteles.
The Dali difference is part of what makes him a continuing phenomenon, more popular and collectible than ever.
(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)