A Spoonful of Dali, Served Up in Delicious Ways
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian-Writer
Let’s look at a spoonful of Dali – literally. Well, sort of. Spoons, after all, showed up with some frequency – and with a dollop of bewilderment – in Dali’s Surrealism, mainly of the 1930s.
There are theories, observations, and explanations pertaining to spoons. Who knows for sure which ones connect with the intentions and imaginings of Salvador Dali?
One internet source asserts that spoons are symbols of Gnosticism – “a philosophy antithetical to the basic Christian doctrines of salvation, faith and good works.”
Another takes a less religious-oriented view of the utensil, simply noting, “Kitchen utensils are associated with changes you are making. You use them to take what you need in order to find nourishment and self-worth. Like food, the symbolism is exploring fulfillment…A spoon suggests what you need to hold onto in order to feel satisfied, while the fork is more symbolic of taking a stab at something, or making a change in direction that will help you provide for yourself. The spoon can also personify your desire to be cared for and nurtured.”
Any clearer for you now as to what all these Dalinian spoons mean? Me neither. But this is a discussion about Salvador Dali, where things are never quite crystal clear — and Dali wanted to keep it that way!
Perhaps the best known Dali painting in which a spoon prominently inserts itself is Portrait of Picasso of 1947, which appears to be part of the subject’s gray matter and offers up a miniature mandolin.
The work I consider second in prominence, insofar as the subject matter of spoons is concerned, is Agnostic Symbol of 1932. In this case, an outlandishly elongated spoon emerges from a distant wall, this one containing a tiny stop watch (the work shall always take a back seat to another Dali painting that joins it in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection: Soft Construction with Boiled Beans; Premonition of Civil War).
I know of 14 other Dali works – mostly paintings, but also a drawing, sculpture, and a surrealist object – that feature a spoon: Surrealist Object, Gauge of Instantaneous Memory (1932); The Meeting of the Illusion and the Arrested Moment – Fried Eggs Presented in a Spoon (1932); Surrealist Architecture (1932), Portrait of the Vicomtesse Marie-Laure de Noailles (1932), Paranoiac Metamorphosis of Gala’s Face (1932), The Little Theatre (1934), Untitled (1933-1934), Morphological Echo (1936), Sun Table (1936), Autumn Cannibalism (1936), Velasquez Dying Behind the Window on the Left Side Out of Which a Spoon Projects (1982), Chairs with the Wings of a Vulture (1960), and Bust of Dante (1964).
One thing all this reminds us of, I think, is how gastronomy in general was a popular theme in a great many of Dali works, be they paintings, drawings, watercolors, prints, even sculpture. From bread to wine to grapes to cherries to pomegranates and a whole lot more, these items found themselves in a wide range of Dali’s inimitable creative visions.
In a future post, I’m going to riff about Dali and food. After all, I love Dali and I love food…why not put them together!
[Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only]