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This installment of The Melting Times is about the unexpected – a theme perfectly congruent with the Dali mystique.
When I stayed at the Hilton Hotel on St. Pete Beach in 1982 – during inauguration week of the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida – I stepped into the hotel elevator one afternoon and encountered a familiar figure: the famous Captain John Peter Moore, Dali’s first manager/secretary.
I immediately recognized him, of course: dapper, self-confident, and looking fit – physically and financially! Running into Captain Moore was unexpected, but the unexpected got even better that weekend. Later the same day, I left Captain Moore a short note at the front desk, saying how nice it was to meet Dali’s military attachÃ©.
To my surprise, he then left me a message at the desk: “Please join me,” he invited, “for cocktails in the revolving lounge atop the hotel. 8 p.m.”
I did so, and was regaled by lovely stories about the Captain and the Surrealist genius. Moore’s presence was contagious; nearby patrons knew that the colorful, Irish-accented and nattily attired gentleman with the pencil-thin mustache was “somebody.” Even if they didn’t know exactly what his claim to fame was. There was a definite heir of “somebody” about him, as he sipped his bottles of Heineken beer.
Unexpectedly, another message was left for me at the front desk the next morning. It was another note from Captain Moore, together with a cardboard tube. He had to return to Spain, he advised, and the tube contained something for me. Inside: a lithograph from Dali’s 1972 Surrealistic Flowers suite, inscribed to yours truly and signed by Moore and his wife, Catharine, whom I also met at poolside that weekend in March.
‘Soft Watches in Hard Times’
Peter Moore and I corresponded for a while after that weekend. He had informed me over drinks at the hotel that night that he was working on his memoirs, tentatively to be titled Soft Watches in Hard Times. I liked the title very much. In a letter I wrote to him in Cadaques, I asked if he’d consider my serving as editor of his manuscript. Yes, he replied. Alas, the book project fizzled, for reasons about which I’ve never been clear. The Captain has since sailed on to the world beyond this one.
‘More’ at the Knoedler
My private visit to the now defunct Knoedler Gallery in New York City in 1974 offered another unexpected experience. Because of my position as publicity director of the Dali Museum in Ohio at the time, I was accorded the special privilege of a private, albeit quick, tour of Dali’s unprecedented hologram exhibition there.
This was an entirely new creative playground for the artist, and it was fascinating to see the raw creative energy of Dali’s fertile imagination harnessed to the phenomenon of laser beam holography. What I didn’t expect, however, was what was hanging in a special, separate room with a large glass wall: Dali’s massive canvas, “Perpignan Railway Station”(that’s the greatly shortened version of the jawbreakingly titled painting of 1965).
I had no idea the work was temporarily hanging at the Knoedler, so it was a complete surprise, and an utterly fabulous one! Even though I had precious little time to view it, and had to do so from a distance of perhaps 50 feet, through a pane of glass. Still, it was magnificent, and I was taken by the huge bands of gold in the Maltese cross pattern – bands of gold that appeared to glow.
I was not to see this masterwork again until the 2005 Dali Centenary exhibition in Philadelphia, where it was hung a bit too high on the wall for my tastes, unlike the way the bottom length of the canvas hung only inches from the floor at the Knoedler, when I unexpectedly came upon it that day. Holograms and Perpignan all in the same unexpected moment of Dalinian delight.
Oh, and lest we forget – and even though we take the easy way out by calling it simply Perpignan Railway Station – the correct and complete title of the painting is Gala Looking 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.
At 68 words, that’s the longest title of any work by Dali.
Don’t Come Empty Handed!
When I first met Salvador Dali in 1973, I learned something the hard way: it was considered in bad form – in the unique world of Dali, that is – to show up without a gift for the Master! He actually asked me where his gift was, when I introduced myself to him in the King Cole Lounge at New York’s St. Regis Hotel. Yikes! Talk about starting off on the wrong foot. I apologize profusely, but he graciously assured me I should not feel bad. In the same breath, though, he hastened to add that I should bring “one geeft for Dali” next time.
Since I was to visit with him again the following day, I assured him a gift would arrive. But what do you possibly gift to Salvador Dali? Someone suggested flowers – Dali liked flowers – so I settled on a dozen red roses. I went to a florist who happened to be located immediately next door to the St. Regis.
When I made arrangements for them to have the floral bouquet sent to its intended recipient, the proprietor did a wide-eyed double take. “Salvador Dali? The artist, Salvador Dali?” Yes, I assured him. He lived with his wife Gala next door at the St. Regis Hotel, every winter. Sixteenth floor.” The man was incredulous. He apparently operated the shop for years at that location, yet had no idea the world’s most famous artist lived only a few steps away!
The next day my confidence level was considerably higher, when I again visited Dali, knowing I’d had a gift dispatched to his suite. The pricey roses were never acknowledged.
That’s ok, though. All these years later, I can write about the experience. That’s acknowledgment enough. Though maybe I should have sent a test tube filled with flies. I hear someone did that once, and Dali’s mustache wouldn’t stop twitching with delight.
Until next time, viva DALI!
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Not to make excuses, or get too personal, but divorce can drive a person to do crazy things. That was the case when I was in the throes of a marital dissolution back in 1990 and sold my only copy of an audiotape I made of Salvador Dali at the St. Regis Hotel in New York.
It literally pains me to think about it. But maybe by writing it down and sharing it with others, I’ll gain some cathartic relief and sublimate my anguish.
During a visit with the Maestro in the King Cole Lounge of the St. Regis, I had my tape recorder whirring, in hopes of catching some gems from the mouth of the master, just as his famous mustache was an antennae that captured bits of creative inspiration.
Sure enough, during one of his early evening sessions holding court with the menagerie of fans and aficionados who would march through to catch a glimpse of the legendary artist, he suddenly broke into song. This was shortly after I’d told him he “looked great,” to which he responded, as if on cue: “One person look more great of Dali, and dees ess le glorious Generalissimo Francisco Franco in Espain! And now Dali look more young! More powerful! And more close to le Velasquez tech-NIQUE!”
I couldn’t agree more, I assured him. And suddenly – for no apparent reason – Dali began singing a song about the Virgin Mary! He carried a respectable tune, and I captured it all on tape. What a precious little historical sound bite it was, now long since sold to a Hawaiian collector. Obviously my mind at the time was nearly lost in the fog of divorce.
However, lest I beat myself up too mercilessly, I know of other heart-breaking stories of this ilk. One is from a Dali protÃ©gÃ©, who confided that he’d foolishly left a box of original Dali sketches and related, one-of-a-kind material in his garage. All were destroyed when a leaky roof during a heavy rainstorm meant they were destined to a watery grave! And another Dali aficionado who had a postcard signed and sketched on by Dali, then without thinking of it’s future historical significance proceeded to mail it to someone. Ouch.
Of course, Dali would probably have applauded the faux pas. “The more confusion the better!” he used to insist. Easy for him to say.
Dinner at the Morse’s; Or What Never to Do in a House Full of Dali Masterpieces
Speaking of social blunders, I’ll never forget an incident in the home of A. Reynolds and Eleanor R. Morse, the couple who amassed the world’s greatest collection of Dali works, and who became the benefactors of the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.
It was 1973, and I was publicity director of the original Dali Museum in Beachwood, Ohio. It housed a portion of the Morse’s amazing collection, in a wing of their IMS Co. office building on Commerce Park Drive. The same collection that’s now in St. Pete, Florida.
One night my wife at the time and I were invited to the Morse’s for dinner. Also on the guest list were their niece and her new husband, whom they’d never met until this evening at their home on Chagrin Boulevard – aptly named, as you’re soon see. My wife and I arrived a little early, and tarried about the Morse’s living room, unable to get enough of the treasures on their walls – most notable of which was the remarkable canvas, Nature Morte Vivante.
Just prior to the Dali patrons’ niece and her husband’s arrival, Reynolds Morse (his wife called him “Ren”) had stepped out for one reason or another. The young couple arrived and proceeded to the living room, where Eleanor, my wife and I were chatting and enjoying the many Dali’s that covered every available inch of wall space in their home. One oddly erotic little work, Anthropomorphic Beach (fragment), 1928, was actually hung on the side wall of a guest closet, apparently to avoid having to divert the curious eyes of under-age guests!
Anyway, the new nephew did what wasn’t really unfashionable or verboten in those days: he casually lit up a cigarette. But when Ren came back and entered the room, he went ballistic. He used a few unprintable words to make his intentions brutally clear: smoking around those priceless Dali treasures was strictly forbidden. While the way Morse said it was harsh – even his wife chided him for being so blunt – his message was spot-on.
I forget what we dined on that night, but a virtual cloud of cigarette smoke left a dark mood at the table. Everyone felt just a little uncomfortable about the scene the young man had inadvertently created.
“Mr. And Mrs. Morse, Which Dali is Your Favorite?”
Speaking of the Morses, people often wondered whether Dali’s leading collectors had a favorite Dali work, and if so, which one? Having worked with the Morses closely in the early 1970s, I got to know a lot about them, certainly including their answer to this intriguing question. They may surprise you.
Eleanor’s favorite Dali was (and is) Velasquez Painting the Infanta Margarita With the Lights and Shadows of His Own Glory. The 1958 canvas truly is a delight, exuding not only a unique tribute to one of Dali’s most beloved Renaissance masters, but also a certain delicate quality in the delightful depiction of the Infanta Magarita, and the pi-mesonic, nuclear-mystical brushwork Dali employed.
Velazquez Painting the Infanta Margarita
Reynolds’ favorite? Maybe the huge and powerful Hallucinogenic Toreador? Or perhaps that stunning Nature Morte Vivante that graced their living room and never permanently hung in the Beachwood museum? Nope. Think smaller. Much smaller. Because Reynolds Morse’s favorite Dali was the comparatively diminutive, odd little oil titled Javanese Mannequin ( 25.5″ x 21.25″), which the artist painted at age 30.
Why this work? Like so much about the endlessly provocative world of Salvador Dali, this columnist has no idea.
Until next time, Viva DALI!
posted Friday, February 22, 2008, 1:48 PM | 0 comments |
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One of the truly victorious battles on the art criticism front was the remarkable assertion made in March of the new millennium by renowned TIME magazine art critic and author Robert Hughes. In an article titled The Two Faces of Dali, reporting on the then current, traveling exhibition, Dali’s Optical Illusions, Hughes accorded Dali’s famous work, Soft Construction with Boiled Beans; Premonition of Civil War, as high an honor as one could ever hope for. Especially coming from Hughes, whose acerbic pen has never been especially kind to the Surrealist Master.
Hughes believes that Dali’s remarkable war picture, which hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, surpasses even Picasso in making the definitive statement about the horrors of war.
“With this single painting,” the critic wrote in TIME’s March 13, 2000 issue, “Dali moved into the territory of Goya. This monstrous Titan in the act of tearing itself to pieces is the most powerful image of a country’s anguish and dismemberment to issue from Spain (or anywhere else) since Goya’s Desastres and Disparates. And every inch of it, from the sinister greenish clouds and electric-blue sky to the gnarled bone and putrescent flesh of the monster, is exquisitely painted. This, not Picasso’s Guernica, is modern art’s strongest testimony on the Spanish Civil War and on war in general.”
Speaking of Picasso, Dali did an exceptional “Portrait of Picasso” graphic, available through The Salvador Dali Society.
So Sorry, Mr. Hughes
A footnote: your humble columnist corresponded with Mr. Hughes many years ago, trying to get the well-known TIME magazine critic’s general opinion of Salvador Dali. Shockingly, Mr. Hughes told me, by letter, that he felt Dali had achieved “nothing of importance” since the publication of his autobiography in 1942! That, of course, was the quintessential example of how time – the passing of the years, not the magazine (!) – can change one’s perception. Today Dali’s work of the 1940s, and four prodigious decades beyond it, is being revered and honored in exhibitions, books, films (such as The Dali Dimension, available through The Salvador Dali Society), and websites like this.
Sorry, Mr. Hughes, but you got that one wrong.
Metaphorical Train Wreck
Let’s lighten the mood some, from the intensity of a powerful painting about war, to an ill-fated Dali journey I’ll never forget – fodder, in hindsight, for a good laugh and a bit of embarrassment.
In the 1970s (I don’t quite recall the year), I became aware that Dali’s huge oil on canvas – which also has the distinction of being his longest single-word title, Galacidalalacidesoxyribonucleicacid (1963) – was owned by and displayed in the New England Merchants National Bank in Boston, Mass.
Since I’m not a fan of air travel, I boarded a train from Buffalo to Bean Town, anticipating the rush I always get when I see a Dali painting in person for the first time – especially an ambitious, wall-sized painting like this one, whose subtitle rolls off the tongue far easier: Homage to Crick and Watson.
I arrived in Boston and hailed a cab to Prudential Plaza, then scaled the tall stairs to the grand bank, weak in the knees in expectation of what I was about to see. Even though the painting is virtually monochromatic – heavy in earth tones and revealing only a few touches of other colors in the smallest of details – its message about the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA, and references to Christ’s ascension, intrigued me.
No, it wouldn’t have the dazzling colors of Tuna Fishing or Hallucinogenic Toreador, but it still made a profound statement. And it’s sheer size and impressive Renaissance-like technique would further make my trip worthwhile.
As I strode into the bank lobby, there, along the left wall and taking up a huge portion of that wall was… was… an enormous plywood crate! The famous Dali masterpiece was… sealed in a crate!
It seems the bank was in the throes of renovating – there were “excuse our dust” signs all about – and the masterwork I’d traveled hundreds of miles to see was now entombed! The weak in the knees sensation I’d anticipated was not to be denied, but now for a far, far different reason!
I was horrified. This was a nightmare.
I cajoled a bank official to telephone the top bank executive at his home, so that I might explain my plight – my long journey by train expressly for the purpose of seeing this painting. “Would they consider uncrating it, just removing the front cover for a few minutes?” Of course, to do so would have been an enormously labor-intensive, wildly impractical undertaking. As I look back on it, it was the height of hubris or, more accurately, naivete on my part, to think they would make such an effort for a young kid who really should have called ahead!
I boarded Amtrak to begin my forlorn journey home, the weight of dejection, frustration, and embarrassment heavy on my shoulders. Call ahead quickly became my lifelong mantra. But who would ever expect the painting not to be on display, given that it was permanently owned by the bank (not merely on loan), and considering how huge it is. Where else could they have put it, after all?
These days, of course, “Galacid…” hangs permanently in the collection of The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. I finally got to see it at the Montreal retrospective in 1990. Yeah, I took the train up there, too, but with a far happier ending. To this day, whenever I think about this monumental Dali painting, I can’t help a quick flashback to Boston, staring at what seemed like miles of plywood! And remembering, always, to call ahead.
Until next time, Viva DALI!
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Premier red carpet event; Dali & Film at The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg:
February 9, 2008 Joe Nuzzolo (President, The Salvador Dali Society) and Jianna Maarten (Director, The Salvador Dali Society) attended “Daliwood” St. Petersburg’s red carpet premiere of the current Dali show Dali & Film.
Brimming with reporters, flashing lights, shoe hats, surrealist couture, tasty food and drinks, and a swingin’ band the opening night brought to mind the hollywood glamour parties of old.
Dali & Film was organized by Tate Modern, London, in collaboration with the Fundaci+¦ Gala-Salvador Dal+¡, Figueres, Spain, and The Salvador Dali Museum and exhibits a variety of key pieces from Dal+¡’s oeuvre, incorporating painting, film, photography, sculpture, and texts. A diverse exhibition it stimulates the viewer in every way, as one can roam from masterpieces to silent films, cartoons, or Dalinean writings.
We found it exciting to find our film “Dali Dimension: Decoding the Mind of a Genius” on prominent display at the Museum’s store. For more information on the film:
We also had the chance to visit with Elliott and Emily King. Elliot is the author of one of our favorite books on Dali, Dali: Surrealism and Cinema, a great read that delves into the connection between Dali’s cinematic ventures and his works of art. This book is available in the museum’s store and also on our website:
(Left to Right) Member of the Museum Staff, Emily King, Elliot King, Jianna Maarten.
We highly recommend attending Elliott’s lecture on Dali and Cinema on April 15, 2008 at The Salvador Dali Museum. We at the Salvador Dali Society found Elliott’s lecture at The Los Angeles County Museum of Art to be entertaining, inspiring and thoroughly informative. He is held in the highest regard by our staff who considers him to be one of the great minds of Dalinian study.
All in all the night was a smashing success and we urge all Dali fans to see the show. Tickets are on sale at the museum’s website as Dali shows tend to sell out fast http://www.salvadordalimuseum.org/exhibits/current_exhibits.html
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Up for a challenge?
In this edition of The Melting Times, I’m challenging you to look beyond the obvious – something Salvador Dali did as routinely as you or I take a breath! One of Dali’s remarkable gifts was his ability to put a new and special twist on things. You and I could look at, say, a cluster of trees and see branches and leaves; Dali would look at the same thing and show us how we missed a galaxy of visual delights!
Get Out Your 3-Day Glasses!
A discovery that I don’t mind claiming as mine (although I imagine there must have been someone else somewhere in the Dali universe who realized this) was the hidden visual message Dali left with us when he created the 1978 canvas, Cybernetic Odalisque. I “cracked the code” on this one several years back.
What an interesting, unusual and optically astonishing work this is! Very little has been written about it. Even most Dali enthusiasts, it’s my sense anyway, seldom even consider the work when they contemplate Dali’s genius – especially the optical illusion that’s so woven into the fabric of what this man achieved.
Yet let me draw your attention to the picture’s subtitle: Homage to Bela Julesz, for therein lies an important clue. Julesz was a visual neuroscientist who, among other things, delved into stereoscopy. “His ingenious use of the stereogram,” according to one source, “established a new approach in the field of vision research and presaged the now common use of carefully controlled computational techniques in brain science.”
At first glance, Cybernetic Odalisque is a strange orange and green- checkered pattern, with ghosted figures subtly lurking in the background of this Mondrian-like tableau. But wait! The homage to Mr. Julesz becomes graphically and dramatically clear when you view the work with 3-D stereoscopic glasses!
In fact, the illusion of depth is gaspingly apparent, once you allow your focus to sort of drift beyond the surface – beyond the obvious – and discern the intended effect. There are actually three different planes that spring to life – that literally leap from the canvas, or off the page, if you’re viewing a book reproduction of the canvas. The original is in the Teatru-Museu Dali in Figueres, Spain. It was a gift from Dali himself to the Spanish state.
What better way to pay homage to Julesz – and provide a creative outlet for Dali’s career-long fascination with optical phenomena – than to involve us by requiring that we don 3-D glasses to get an eyeful of vintage Dali at his mind-bending best! Try it for yourself..the three-dimensional, almost hologram-like effect is unbelievable!
Turning Art on Its Head
Let’s stay with this theme of optical illusion. This time in a far different form and perhaps intent as well. Because this example requires us to believe that – just as Dali turned modern art on its ear – he chose to have us turn one of his greatest masterpieces… upside down!
I’m talking about the great Metamorphosis of Narcissus of 1937. The main visual message – the double image in this work – is masterful. Narcissus, seen at left, his head bowed to one bent knee as he admires his reflection, is repeated in identical form to the right, now metamorphosed into a hand holding an egg from which a flower grows. There are few examples better than this of Dali’s penetrating paranoiac-critical method hard at work.
Salvador Dali once showed Metamorphosis of Narcissus to Sigmund Freud, who greatly admired it, but was more taken by its creator. He called Dali “a complete example of a Spaniard – what a fanatic!” It was a mutually respectful meeting of the father of psychoanalysis and the titan of Surrealism.
Which brings us to The Metamorphosis of Narcissus – upside down! First, take note of the small rock formation at ground level, just to the right of the Narcissus figure on the left. Do you see it? Now, my Dalinian friends, turn your reproduction of this painting upside down, directing your attention to that same small rock formation. Do we now not see the bespectacled and bearded image of – could it be? – Sigmund Freud himself?
Maybe, and maybe not. With Dali we’re always looking for more, perhaps seeing things he never intended. Would he really create a work that he also wanted people to consider when flipped 180 degrees?
Lest you dismiss the notion as unlikely, I turn your attention to a visual pun he pulled off with great effect two years earlier: Paranoiac Visage – The Postcard Transformed, where his painting of an African hut with villagers seated in front of it becomes the startling image of a human face – when flipped a quarter turn!
Oh, Salvador. What fun would modern art have been without you! Until next time, viva Dali!