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September 26, 2007

"He just manages to find the buttons to push."

So said Philadelphia Art Museum curator Michael Taylor in a discussion of Salvador Dali:

"He's so perverse and shocking and outrageous, and he gets people's knickers in a twist," Taylor commented. "He just manages to find the buttons to push."
That is certainly true. The number of people who continue to hate Salvador Dali never ceases to amaze me. Every new generation that finds its way into art school is taught new reasons to hate him. A leading Dali dealer I know told me how much it amuses him to see young Dali fans who start out liking him, only to "learn" that they're not supposed to like him when they get to college and grow in sophistication. (It must gall the high priests of art to see Dali's work continuing to draw larger crowds than they think proper.)

Not that there weren't plenty of reasons to hate Dali in the old days. Not only was he called a Nazi supporter (an absurd idea I've discussed previously), but he was slammed as an atomic war lover in the Soviet Encyclopedia:

"If one is to believe the Bolshaya Sovetskaya Entsyclopedia (vol. 41, the article "Surrealism"), then 'the well-known representative of surrealism--the painter Salvador Dali--paints pictures extoling atomic war'. This is succinctly and expressively stated, but unfortunately it does not quite correspond to the truth. Dali does not extol any kind of war, and in general he neither extols nor passes judgment on anything. Salvador Dali, as is true of all surrealism, is a considerably more complicated phenomenon, although both are completely in conformity with the development of Western art. I don't intend to examine in detail the essence of this phenomenon, the ancestor of which is unquestionably Freud and his cult of the subconscious. I would only like to consider why museums and exhibitions which display abstract art are almost always empty, whereas there are always large crowds in front of Dali's paintings..."
And the large crowds just won't go away. Must be galling for those who teach college kids that the drippings of Jackson Pollock are infinitely superior.

As button-pusher extraordinaire, Dali even managed to push the buttons of the great George Orwell himself, who condemned Dali in the strongest terms imaginable:

...in this long book of 400 quarto pages there is more than I have indicated, but I do not think that I have given an unfair account of his moral atmosphere and mental scenery. It is a book that stinks. If it were possible for a book to give a physical stink off its pages, this one would--a thought that might please Dali, who before wooing his future wife for the first time rubbed himself all over with an ointment made of goat's dung boiled up in fish glue. But against this has to be set the fact that Dali is a draughtsman of very exceptional gifts. He is also, to judge by the minuteness and the sureness of his drawings, a very hard worker. He is an exhibitionist and a careerist, but he is not a fraud. He has fifty times more talent than most of the people who would denounce his morals and jeer at his paintings. And these two sets of facts, taken together, raise a question which for lack of any basis of agreement seldom gets a real discussion.

The point is that you have here a direct, unmistakable assault on sanity and decency; and even--since some of Dali's pictures would tend to poison the imagination like a pornographic postcard--on life itself. What Dali has done and what he has imagined is debatable, but in his outlook, his character, the bedrock decency of a human being does not exist. He is as anti-social as a flea. Clearly, such people are undesirable, and a society in which they can flourish has something wrong with it.

I'd almost swear Orwell doesn't like Dali very much.

Which is interesting, because there's no indication that the two ever met. Orwell (a favorite writer of mine) died in 1950. He tended to change his mind, though, and he might have revised his thinking had he known that Dali was also known for reversing his positions, eventually coming to fancy himself a savior "destined for nothing less than to rescue painting from the void of modern art."

Dali died in 1989, and he's my favorite artist. His personal character is about as relevant to whether I like his art as the character of Jerry Garcia (my favorite musician) is to my appreciation of his music. You either like someone's art or you don't.

Either way, I guess there's a tendency of button pushing all the way around.

September 9, 2007

Clueless Cold War surrealism

Salvador Dalí is hardly known as a political cartoonist. But it is well known that he became convinced that Soviet Communism was doomed, long before it fell. And in an ink drawing from the early 1950s, he predicted the future of Russia:


In retrospect, this looks prophetic, but from a political standpoint at the height of the Cold War, it would probably have looked like clueless nonsense by a surrealist artist best advised to stay out of politics. (Dali, of course, got into loads of trouble for incorporating Lenin, and later Hitler, into his paintings.)

But let's look at the surrealistic clues from the 1950s! Notice the once czarist double headed eagle on each side of the top of the throne, with the cross in the middle.

(The double headed eagle has been restored as the current Russian coat or arms, and Christianity has had a huge resurgence since the fall of Communism.)

The hammer has morphed into some sort of winged missile (maybe a guided missle like the G-3 or the Buran), and it has broken through and left behind the wheat sheaf which had been the handle of the sickle (a prediction that the arms race would be in clear conflict with necessities like food).

Most significantly, note that the blade part of sickle has reversed directions so that it now forms an Islamic crescent, and has been joined by the star to form an unmistakable Islamic star and crescent.

As to why the two RINOs rhinos would be propping up the Russian throne, who can say?

Ask Napoleon about the shadow.

September 2, 2007

Futuristic Forties Flashback

Needless to say, in 1942, FDR was president, and we were at war.

Artist Salvador Dalí (my favorite), having fled fascist Europe with his wife Gala, spent the war hopping between the East and West coasts, and occasionally dishing up his typically provocative, eccentric forms of war propaganda like this:


As you can see, that's an image of FDR on the upper right, and it then morphs into several less clear double images of (who are they? FDR? Lincoln?) framed by the flying attack lobsters, while arachnoid-like parachutists clamber about. (The presidential "hair" consists of angels, one of whose feet comes through the "ear" in the lower picture.)

There's a hand-written Dalinian prophecy about the future of the war (closing with "future victories of the sky") inscribed on the upper left, which you can see in more detail here:


I'm unable to find out anything about this print (issued by the New York Graphic Society), and it is not listed or referenced in any of the Dalí catalogues or archives I've seen, nor in any of the books I own about the artist. It's not worth much money because it's just an old unsigned print, but I'm delighted to have found something that I'm unable to identify, because it sheds more light on this mysterious, much misunderstood artist (who I'm sure believed he was helping the war effort and supporting the president).

I think his prediction came true, but right now I'm lost in translation and running out of time....

I'm sure it's a coincidence, but this is the second time I've been lost in the 1940s in just 24 hours.

Well 24 is 42 backwards, but as I say, I'm running out of time in the present, so these futuristic flashbacks must stop.

Seriously, I have to leave now, as I'm running late!

(Damn these time bandits! I need to, um, Dalineate my time!)