Nearly 10 Years Ago, Atlanta Show Proved Dali was a ‘Nuclear-Mysticist’!
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian/Writer
Time melts – and flies – when it comes to Salvador Dali.
It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly a decade since my second biggest Dali dream came true – seeing in person Dali’s great masterpiece, Santiago El Grande. My number one dream came true far earlier – in 1973 and ’74 – when I got to meet and spend some time with the celebrated Salvador Dali himself at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City. (I also got to see Gala very briefly, though I didn’t formally meet her).
In 2010, despite my dislike of flying, my wife and I jetted off to Atlanta, Georgia’s High Museum of Art to see the fruits of the curatorial efforts of my friend, Elliott King, Ph.D. The Washington & Lee University art history professor and Dali specialist was instrumental in organizing what I’ve always believed to be the greatest Dali exhibition to date.
Even though places like the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Philadelphia Museum of Art have held extraordinary Dali retrospectives, no exhibition to my knowledge has featured as many of the large Dali masterworks as the Dali – The Late Work exhibition in Atlanta. Or at least not as many truly outstanding ones.
This exceptional show, which King tells me drew some 260,000 visitors – including 20,000 in its final “Dali ‘til Dawn” 24 hours – included Santiago El Grande, The Madonna of Port Lligat (the huge one), The Ecumenical Council, Assumpta Corpuscularia Lapislazulina, and the most iconic of all, Christ of St. John of the Cross – arguably the most famous religious painting of the 20th century and, in this historian’s view, one of the greatest paintings ever, religious or otherwise.
There were many other smaller but no less giant artistic statements by Dali, too, exploring a host of ideas and themes.
The focus, of course, was on the “late” works, meaning Dali’s under-appreciated post-Surrealism, Nuclear-Mystical period. Some have credited Dali – The Late Work exhibition with sort of “legitimizing” these later, not technically surrealist works by the Catalan master. But I find it astonishing – and just plain ignorant – that many critics still dismiss this later period as being far less significant than Dali’s purely surrealist works, mainly of the late 1920s and 1930s.
The whole point of Dali – The Late Work, well, much of the point, anyway, was to shine a light on Dali’s Nuclear-Mystical period, when he essentially exited the house of Surrealism and entered a brand new dwelling made relevant by the dropping of the atomic bomb. Freud’s shingle over the doorway was promptly replaced by that of Heisenberg.
How ironic that, when Salvador Dali’s work first came to America, the critics were so confounded by the ants and flies and soft watches and burning giraffes that they dismissed Dali as something of a lunatic. Now, with respect to Dali’s post-surrealist period (i.e., his “late work”), the critics couldn’t wrap their heads approvingly around this body of work precisely because it lacked the ants and flies and watches and giraffes!
You can’t please everyone.
Without a doubt, the Atlanta showing of the remarkable works in the Dali – The Late Work exhibition – now in the history books for nearly a decade (seems like I just toured it yesterday!) – was a giant step forward in painting a far more complete and accurate picture of Salvador Dali. An artist who, let it be said, was not just a Surrealist – but a Nuclear-Mysticist!
[Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only]