• Email
  • Print

The Energizer

Dali

Catalog of the exhibition by Dawn Ades and Michael Taylor
An exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, February 16–May 15, 2005
Philadelphia Museum of Art/Rizzoli,607 pp., 75.00; $48.00 (paper)

For well over half a century, Salvador Dalí has been internationally famous for the sexy and deranged subject matter of his paintings, for his personal nuttiness, flamboyance, and grandiosity, and for the demoralizing way in which he destroyed the borders between creativity and commercial self-promotion. He was a huge character; indeed, he often said, in that simultaneously boastful, cynical, and self-deprecating manner that he perfected, that it was his “personality” that was his greatest achievement. At other times he might announce to the world that his writing was his real achievement, and his painting the “least” of him. Yet what is most solid and substantial about Dalí is very specific and not wildly complex qualities: the particular gleaming surfaces of his paintings, with their often large areas of a single, pulsating color; his feeling for the transient, soft light of dawn or dusk and for the brilliantly hard light of a sunny summer afternoon by the Mediterranean; and his astounding ability to delineate and make us feel the simmering strength in tiny, tightly wound concentrations of lines, dots, or shapes.

The world of Dalí’s paintings and drawings is full, to be sure, of the oddest, most daring, and startling imagery. In his 1929 The Great Masturbator, for example, we see a woman’s face nuzzling a man’s groin, his member greatly enlarged. In the 1936 Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War), a colossal and agonized creature has pulled himself (or herself) apart with such force that we can’t fathom how this being was ever one body. In probably his best-known picture, The Persistence of Memory, of 1931, limp watches are draped over this and that in a barren terrain. Dalí’s pictures are dreamscapes, and like dreams they can come and go in the mind, gnaw at you, or cry out to be interpreted, as if they were keys to a deeper meaning of an experience. Yet like many dreams his images are also weightless, interchangeable, and evanescent. With certain exceptions, they run together in the mind, but the texture and degrees of light in his pictures, the way he brings together the metallic and the velvety, the crinkly and the vaporous, become more pronounced the more of his pictures you see.

Dalí is now the subject of a retrospective on the occasion of the centenary of his birth in 1904. It is a respectful and measured show, with an emphasis on his early work, which is in keeping with the generally held belief that his most serious and engaging art was done beginning in the late 1920s and was over around 1938 when, not yet thirty-five, he was still a relatively young man. Many of his most powerful pictures from this time are here. The art he did thereafter—Dalí died in 1989, but had stopped making pictures around 1983—has been presented to give a clear sense of the artist’s later thinking. We can see how he was concerned with retelling myths, or giving his take on atomic power, Christianity, and stereoscopy, among other topics. But this exhibition is not the one that Dalí, whose artistic reputation has long been shaky, could have used.

Philadelphia’s show is too big. We don’t need to see in such detail the work he did, as a teenager and a youth, as he precociously took on one advanced new style after another in an attempt to find his own direction. There is also an overabundance of paintings from the 1930s. At the same time, none of his superb portraits of acquaintances from this decade—images of, say, the Surrealist poet Paul Éluard or Dalí’s patroness the Vicomtesse de Noailles—are here or are illustrated in the mammoth catalog. And while the show includes drawings, one feels that they are insufficiently represented. Dalí’s impetuosity, his quicksilver thinking, and a messy down-to-earthness, little evident in his compulsively shipshape paintings, are most accessible in his drawings throughout his career.

There are drawbacks to the way Dalí’s later work is presented, too, although how to manage the artist’s work from the early 1940s on would be a headache for any curator. With his simultaneously pious yet glitzy and often enormous rethinkings of, say, the Last Supper or the Crucifix-ion (which are in the show), or his bombastic conceptions of Christo-pher Columbus discovering America or Saint James on a rearing horse, Dalí, in these years, caromed from the arid to the bizarre, the grandiloquent to the esoteric, the sleazy to the simply unbelievable. Yet he managed, in paintings here and there and in drawings with some consistency, to make pictures that are as absorbing as his earlier ones, and few of these made it to Philadelphia. It is a shame, for example, that an amazingly strange little oil, dated 1958–1960, with a preposterously long title beginning Cadaques Spitting—it shows a macabre, twisted couple—could not be in the exhibition, or that the huge painting The Hallucinogenic Toreador of ten years later, a carnival-like compendium of many of the artist’s earlier images, isn’t present, either.1 His gently atmospheric later landscapes of life along the Spanish seacoast where he lived are also absent, and missed. Dalí isn’t as great an artist as this exhibition, in its sheer number of pictures, makes him out to be. Yet he is, if only by a little, a more sensitive and engaging one than the selection suggests.

The foregoing is not to deny that Dalí’s chief claim to historic importance lies in the work he did as a young man operating under the aegis of Surrealism. As Ian Gibson, the author of The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí2the most recent and authoritative biography of the artist—persuasively sums up his subject, the Surrealist movement, with its desire to shock and to present the irrational and the repressed, gave an already volatile, knowing, and ambitious young artist the green light to make an art about his every paranoid fantasy, perverse daydream, and nightmare. The movement, which was as concerned with writing as with visual art, also prompted Magritte and Yves Tanguy to find their voices, while Miró and Ernst, who were older, were crucially influenced by Surrealism’s insistence on sexual candor and on the role of chance and sheer incongruity in the making of an image. The young Giacometti created some of his best early sculptures, including Woman with Her Throat Cut and Disagreeable Object, under the movement’s belief in confronting viewers with discomforting, even harrowing material.

But no one embodied Surrealism as dramatically as Dalí. In paintings with which he announced himself to a wider European audience in 1929, his breakthrough year, the door to the unconscious was opened and what came out were images that have retained their ability to disarm. In pictures such as The First Days of Spring, Accommodations of Desire, and The Lugubrious Game, we might see a man who has soiled himself, a woman whose head is a large red vagina swarming with flies, or merely orgy-like groupings. Young men, in these paintings, often have a hand held up to cover their faces, as if in shame, and a bearded older man who appears to be Freud himself—a hero to Dalí, who was familiar with a number of Freud’s works—can be spotted in a picture or two.

The paintings Dalí went on to make in the early 1930s substituted a glowing and subdued light for the brilliant hard clarity of the earlier works, and he toned down their crazed atmosphere. In the newer pictures the instances of knives, gushing blood, and threatening vaginas diminished, but a general atmosphere of eroticized strangeness prevailed. Pictures show penises on the verge of ejaculation, nipples so aroused they could be little flagpoles, and prominently placed buttocks, some shown with impossibly weird deformations. When we can’t figure out what makes an image disturbing, or plain odd, Dalí’s titles—as in Atmospheric Skull Sodomizing a Grand Piano—help.

Dalí, it turned out, was more than a Surrealist artist. He was a Surrealist being. Once he had been given license to parade his every phobia, dream, hunch, fetish, and memory, even (as he put it in his 1942 autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí) false memory, he couldn’t be put back in the box. With his seemingly uncontrollable desire to show off his learning, to proclaim his genius, and to uncover one or another long-hidden principle of existence—and determined to discolor as much as he could with the scatological—Dalí became an outright monster. Especially for viewers who remember him in the 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s, the man himself is impossible to keep separate from his pictures.

Armed with his barbed mustache, his ever-present cane, and his generally dark, formal suits, Dalí played the part of a Mephistophelian master of loony revels. By his side was his wife, the sphinx-like Gala, whom he cast as his protector, muse, sister, collaborator, even other self. She had initiated him into sex when he was twenty-five and jumping out of his skin with anxiety about the topic; and part of his slavish devotion to her thereafter seems to have been based on simple gratitude for giving him a sense of his manhood (never a subject he was easy with). From the early 1950s on for three decades (or until they became too old and ill for it), the Dalís divided their time the same way. For roughly half of the year, they holed up in their modest house on the Spanish coast, where Dalí was chiefly involved with his painting. The rest of the year was spent in hotels in Paris and New York, where the artist seemed largely engaged in self-promotion, some of it tied to products with his name attached, including jewelry, perfume, and clothing. As time went by, Gala’s most important role was as the business manager of this operation.

To a degree, Dalí remained in touch with orthodox Surrealist thinking in that, in his “actions,” as he called them (they might also be called performance art pieces, or stunts), he aimed to sabotage everyday reality and good sense. His antics were not all that different from those performed by the Marx Brothers, whose work he loved. His props often included animals, women in some stage of undress, and unwary people who would get caught in the illogical carryings-on. He might show up to give a lecture wearing a deep-sea diver’s outfit (in which he nearly asphyxiated himself), or present, at the Paris Zoo, an abstruse theory involving a rhinoceros and a reproduction of a Vermeer, or merely make a commotion at a fashion show. Like Harpo Marx, his favorite of the brothers—Harpo and Dalí hoped at one point to collaborate on a movie—the artist’s clowning had a daredevilish and very physical component.

There was a significant literary side to the man, too. Dalí could deliver himself of Groucho-like, barbed inanities, referring to Matisse, for example, as the “celebrated painter of seaweed,” or declaring “I hate simplicity in all its forms,” or saying he had lost his fear of death because he discovered that “God was tiny.” Edmund Wilson pronounced Dalí’s 1944 novel Hidden Faces a failure, although an “entertaining” one; and the artist’s autobiography, while seemingly endless, is highly readable and quite funny, as is 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship, from 1948. Gibson, whose comments on Dalí the writer are particularly valuable, says that Dalí’s frankness about masturbation and shame are most unusual in Spanish prose; and Dawn Ades, the art historian whose knowledge of the painter’s thinking can be called definitive (and who is a principal contributor to the Philadelphia catalog), writes that Dalí’s 1934 study of Millet’s painting The Angelus is “one of the most remarkable interpretations of a picture ever written.”

As Dalí’s often manifesto-like early writings attest, he aimed to be rigorously unsentimental in his relationships and to ridicule any obviously “artistic” attitudes, especially those held by the generation preceding his own. He had come to these conclusions even before he joined forces with the Surrealists, who shared similar attitudes. Dalí’s desire to attack, even mangle, whatever was respectable in life or art was on some level in accord with the thinking of figures as different as Duchamp, Miró, and André Breton, Surrealism’s chief instigator and theoretician. It was entirely in line with the thinking of Luis Buñuel, Dalí’s fellow student, in the early 1920s, at the Residencia des Estudiantes in Madrid. The short films they collaborated on in 1929 and 1930, Un Chien andalou and L’Age d’or, remain, with their classic images of an eyeball slit by a razor blade, rotting donkeys draped over a piano, and skeletons in bishops’ robes, the progenitors of what might be called shock cinema.

But Dalí’s Nietzschean determination to be cold and unfeeling toward others, added to his compulsion to perform and his desire to deal an Oedipal blow to the generation of artists immediately preceding his own, resulted in an increasingly sour, grotesque, and inverted aggressivity. It was not enough that he was opposed to abstraction and an admirer of nineteenth-century academic art at its most fussily illustrational. He had to cast himself as the lone defender of “tradition” in art. But his idea of tradition manifested itself in fey, posturing figures wearing tights and in cheesy approximations of the geometricized spirit of Renaissance paintings. At the same time, with his disdain for such bourgeois notions as sensibility, taste, and refinement, he served up endless crude pastiches of his own and other artists’ work. Forsaking the fiercely held left-wing attitudes of his youth, he ultimately became a fawning admirer of Franco, the Vatican, and any member of any aristocracy he could locate. In the 1930s, his confessed “erotic” attraction to Hitler (specifically to Hitler’s buttocks) was enough to put him, for Breton, beyond the pale.

It is hard to tell whether, as Dalí aged, he was master or victim of the ferocious battle he felt he had to wage against the conventional and the logical. Contemptuous of the idea of artistic integrity, he thought nothing of signing countless sheets of blank paper (on many occasions) for operatives to make “original Dalí prints” in any way they wanted. As Gala’s interests were concentrated more and more on the accumulation of money for herself and on the services of young men, the painter, who had never believed in the idea of friendship (but for one or two exceptions), was increasingly in the hands of mercenaries angling for a handout. For the present writer, a low point of Dalí’s life came in 1979, when he was formally accepted into the Académie des Beaux-Arts of the Institut de France. After his acceptance speech, in which he ruffled his audience with passing remarks about pubic hair, he noted to a reporter that his art was “pure shit.” But there are many low points in his long decline, not the least of which is the image of the artist in his last seven years, after Gala’s death in 1982, essentially alone and waiting to die.

Yet while Dalí will undoubtedly always be considered in light of Surrealism, one can wonder if there aren’t other, broader ways of perceiving and enjoying his work. When his 1930s pictures are taken most seriously by commentators, they come across as casebook illustrations of Surrealist or Freudian theory, concentrated dramas of Oedipal fury or castration anxiety, waiting to be interpreted. But this kind of writing gives the pictures a weightiness they don’t always deserve. Many of Dalí’s psychological fantasies of the time, particularly those revolving around his obsessions with, say, the legend of William Tell (which he saw in Oedipal terms), or with Millet’s The Angelus (which he saw as an ominous, not reverent, work), or a series having to do with telephones, are frequently thin as paintings.

What gives Dalí’s art its life is less his learning than his virtuosity as a draftsman and his impatience with any one style. He is often compared with Bosch and fifteenth-century miniaturist realism because he shows the horrific and the fantastical in tightly drawn detail, using generally quite small picture sizes. And while he clearly responded to miniaturization in itself (as did Miró, Tanguy, and Gia-cometti), his pictures in the 1930s are only a bit like Bosch’s. He can be naturalistic in one painting, giving, say, the exact texture of a beach, and the next might have the artificiality of an illustration in a children’s book; while The Dream, of 1931, which shows primarily an art nouveau–like image of a woman with her eyes closed, and is largely in black and white, has the sonorous strength of Marsden Hartley or some Rouaults.

Dali’s liveliest works are often those where he populates his scene with angular, even primitive little figures who tend to have bug-eyed faces. These giggling crazies, obviously taken from the comics and from anonymous newspaper and magazine illustrations, may literally represent the gremlins of the unconscious, but, for a viewer, they are a comic joy to encounter. Best of all of Dalí’s adaptations of a mass-audience kind of communication is his work with photography. In the early 1930s, he made (too few) painted versions of slightly overexposed snapshots, many of which have Gala as a subject. Often no more than two or three inches on a side yet in no way sketchy, they are, in formal terms, among the most adventurous works he ever did.

By temperament, Dalí was an animator, both in the sense that his pictures are kin to stills from movie animation and in a larger, less tangible sense of his wanting to bring someone or something to life. Picasso said that his younger compatriot was like an outboard motor that is always running, and when you take in much of Dalí’s art, and read about him as a person, encountering as you do the egomaniac who could not help shoving his conclusions at his audience—conclusions about sexual drives, the relation of hard forms to soft forms, atomic power, chaos theory, Christianity, DNA, the secret meaning of pictures and of fables—the man’s energy in itself comes across as his fundamental subject. It can also seem as though, at different times in his career, he portrayed this energy literally, as a moment of caught movement, or as glimmering light, or any crenelated, bubbling, brain-like, or woven entity.

Dalí’s work stems from his awareness of the changing light and landscape of a particular part of the world. He grew up in Figueres, which is not far from the Mediterranean, and his family resettled themselves in the nearby coastal town of Cadaques every summer; and a vast number of his pictures are set by the sea. The shoreline in this part of northeastern Spain is marked by jagged-edged geological outcroppings, and surely a central aspect of this landscape for Dalí had to do with the way light played over the rocky headlands, their surfaces striated with countless little wrinkly crevices. What the painter would see in the early morning or twilight, as the sun fell over the rocks—moments he often recorded in his work—was a flickering effect. Solid forms could look as if they were being dematerialized, and light itself could take on a molten physicality.

This sense of energy about to be released, or of contained movement, was what Dalí, in any case, frequently wanted to show. It turns up in unexpected places. He painted baguettes repeatedly because of their phallic nature. But he also painted bread in other forms because crust, as it picks up light, has—as he shows in a lovely 1926 oil entitled Basket of Bread—a crinkly, about-to-move presence. His veneration of Vermeer similarly has to do, it appears, with the way this painter spookily suggests incipient movement through light. Dalí’s feeling for the release of energy lies behind his sometimes genuinely urgent drawings, from all phases of his career, of explosions or breakups caught in mid-moment and, too, his less successful involvements in the 1970s with holography and stereoscopy.

More importantly, Dalí’s quest for movement propelled, in part, his experiments with double images. A painting with a double image (or with multiple images) is one that can literally be showing something quite different if the painting is looked at differently. In Dalí’s 1940 Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire, for instance, we see among other things a number of people milling about in a ruin. But some of the women there, in the way Dalí has painted their clothes and faces, can form the visage of the French writer—and, in the same work, a woman’s buttocks can seem at the next moment to be a piece of fruit in a bowl.

A double-image work would appear to be a perfect product of the Dalí who, wanting to degrade all conventional ideas of the “artistic,” went overboard and became a purveyor of gimcrack novelties. Yet artists, whether Leonardo or Archimboldo, have been involved with optical illusions, or tricks, like double images for centuries. The idea of a picture having, as it were, a trap door that a viewer can fall through was furthermore of a piece with Surrealism’s love of mystifying and destabilizing its audience. Ernst experimented with the idea, and Magritte brought off a fairly successful example in The Promenades of Euclid, where a road and a conical tower at first seem to be two towers.

Dalí’s involvement with double images, which dates to the early 1930s, veers from the creaky and labored to the genuinely magical. Breton dismissed such pictures as “crossword puzzles,” and it is true that spotting camouflaged images often results in a sense that the picture has canceled itself out. It is momentarily unnerving (and thrilling) to discover that the dwarfing, and headless, entity that appears before the boy in The Spectre of Sex Appeal has a head of sorts, materializing in the nearby rocks. But ultimately it is irritating to realize that the painting can’t be looked at thereafter without that phantom head popping into place.

In some of Dalí’s attempts, however, the lurking images can make a picture, to its benefit, even more elusive. In the dark and moody 1938 Endless Enigma, where a face, a dog, a reclining figure, and other elements form a mountainous landscape, the interlocking ghost forms create such a veiled and ever-changing world as to make the picture resemble, paradoxically, a Cubist work, even an abstraction—exactly the kinds of pictures Dalí was out to discredit.

The Endless Enigma also represents Dalí’s going, perhaps unwittingly, into an emotional terrain that had been antithetical to him. The painting is one of a number of multiple-image works that the artist made at the time which revolve around the features of Fe-derico García Lorca, the great friend of Dalí’s youth who had been murdered in unclear circumstances in 1936, in his hometown of Granada, by the Fascists near the beginning of the Spanish civil war. Enigma is a considerable effort, but it pales beside the other of these works in the exhibition, Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach, also of 1938, which is as powerful a painting as Dalí ever made. This large picture shows a long stretch of beach which can also be seen as a tabletop, on which is a white goblet-like dish with fruit in it. Taken along with a woman seated on the beach, the goblet forms an immense face looking at us. Behind it, in the continuation of the rocky, coastal landscape, we discover an enormous dog, whose collar is formed by an aqueduct—and so on.

Apparition sounds overly busy, but all the elements cohere beautifully around the imposing, beckoning, even slightly salacious face. The creation of the face is a marvel of ingenuity. The formation of one of the eyes, from a distant urn, is particularly deft, and the grinning creature, while mask-like, is naturalistically believable. Lorca had just this sort of massive forehead, which cast his eyes in shadows. The poet, who was homosexual, had been very much in love with Dalí in the 1920s when, like the painter and Luis Buñuel, he was a student at the Residencia in Madrid. Dalí, who apparently had a lifelong fear of being homosexual, spurned Lorca’s physical overtures, but they stayed in close touch over each other’s work and general intellectual currents for a long time, and even after they went their own ways, and Dalí took up with Gala, they remained proud of each other’s achievements. Gibson seems to suggest that Dalí may have had a deeper feeling for Lorca than for anyone he ever knew.

Why there is a dog in Apparition (and in the other paintings that revolve around Lorca’s face) is, oddly, not commented on by Gibson or in Philadelphia’s catalog. Yet the creature, with its gracefully enveloping form and pensive face, is a significant element in the success of Apparition, at least, and it’s not hard to see that Dalí was sending a particular message by his choice of this animal. Titling their movie Un Chien andalou—an Andalusian dog—Buñuel and Dalí were facetiously saying that their film was about Lorca. The movie’s protagonist is effeminate and a loser, and Buñuel, who was heterosexual, worked in those years to wean Dalí from his relationship with the extremely personable, talented, and dashing Lorca. At the Residencia, moreover, students from the south of Spain, as was Lorca, were routinely called Andalusian dogs. Buñuel maintained publicly that his and Dalí s movie’s title meant nothing, since there was neither an Andalusian nor a dog in the film. When Dalí, though, came to remember Lorca after his death, the painter seemed to be saying, from a mixture of many feelings, “Yes, he was an Andalusian dog.”

With its sense of a huge but impalpable human presence emerging out of a silken beach and a vast landscape beyond, Apparition is one of the great, haunting portraits of the twentieth century. And portraiture of an indirect sort is one of the unsung achievements of Dalí’s work. He isn’t known as a portraitist, and the one outright example of the genre in the retrospective, a 1945 oil of Isabel Styler-Tas, is dormant as a painting (although, one suspects, a good likeness). Furthermore, the face that we see most often and clearly in Dalí’s paintings is Gala’s, and while his small photograph-like paintings of her are inspired, his many images of Gala later on, where she is seen straightforwardly, or wrapped in robes, and represents Leda or the Virgin Mary, are inert. Dalí failed to make his wife’s face emblematic or redolent of any particular emotion.

Yet Dalí’s strongest pictures throughout his career are, like Apparition, veiled or intangible images of individuals, usually men. Many of his best paintings of the early 1930s, such as The Great Masturbator, Sleep, and The Enigma of Desire, slyly include portraits of the artist, who takes the form of a mole-like, saggy creature with downturned face and pointy nose—a shape that was based on a particular rock in the Cadaques area. With his firmly shut eyes and long eyelashes, Dalí’s cartoon version of himself in these works is the dreamer who is dreaming the very images we look at. Dalí’s finest pictures from later in the decade also come to rest on single individuals who contain, or conjure up, the larger scenes they are surrounded by, and who are kept at a distance from us. The glowingly red-brown and elegantly designed Impressions of Africa shows the artist himself at an easel, a rare instance in Dalí’s work. Yet the painting is so constructed that most of his face is blocked from view.

In The Metamorphosis of Narcissus, of 1937, our hero is at first even hard to find in a fevered setting that suggests a cross between the moon and Vermont at the peak of fall foliage. Here is a picture about self-regard where we can’t see our protagonist’s face or its reflection. And in Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War), while we look at a crazed creature in the process of self- mutilation, what gives this painting its lasting power has much to do with the way the person’s face is lifting right out of the picture. We strain to see it.

Dalí’s powers of invention were never the same after the 1930s, but he occasionally produced pictures that touch us directly—that aren’t merely illustrations of his obsessions of the moment. Among the best are the 1963 Portrait of My Dead Brother and The Hallucinogenic Toreador, of 1968– 1970, and both are about elusively seen individuals. Even who we look at in these large paintings is unclear. Dalí’s older brother, named Salvador, died before he was two years old, so the young man in My Dead Brother, whose handsome yet vague face hovers over a landscape—it has been formed by a pixel-dot-like screen which blends at the edges into scenes with little people—is hardly that of his actual brother. Dalí said he took the image from a magazine.

The image of the toreador also seems to have been plucked randomly. Dalí claimed he saw this face in the figure of the Venus de Milo’s midriff as it was printed on a box of Venus Velvet pencils. The phantasmagoric work Dalí created to house this double image includes among many other elements a number of Venus de Milo figures, a little floating head of Gala, and a squadron of bees. The ghostly face of the bullfighter, unfortunately, has about it a sense of resignation, which stamps the work with a sentimental note. But the way the man’s face comes and goes—sometimes it is perfectly visible, at other times it seems to disappear into the lavishly colored dream world it is set in—gives the picture the quality of being a dissolve-like moment in a movie. As a moment of transition, it is as fluid and serene as any Dalí created, and the work, perhaps not coincidentally, seems to have been his last major undertaking.

The artist’s own unmistakable face, however, looking imperiously at us, is Philadelphia’s ubiquitous advertisement for its retrospective. The image is one of Philippe Halsman’s many photographs of Dalí. The two men worked together for years, and some of the shots they devised, where we see the artist in his dark suit, jumping off the ground, with baguettes, cats, other people, or jets of water also flying, caught in midair, are fully expressive of his need to present sheer energy. But the Halsman photo that is currently being featured is of Dalí the oddball character, prompting one to wonder if and when Dalí the personality will ever be a distant memory, and his pictures can have more of a life of their own.

Even without the ringmaster, Dalí’s art has a circus-like atmosphere, of course, and attempting to understand why the artist produced so much junk will always lead us back to the person. But without having to contend so fully with the personality we might gather more clearly that many of Dalí’s strongest, and perhaps only affecting, paintings are often about figures and faces who shyly pull away from us or can only be seen piecemeal, unable to stand forth on their own. Having us realize that within the showiest and tawdriest body of pictures of a twentieth-century artist lie some of the most withdrawn and delicate of twentieth-century pictures of people may be in itself the best of Dalí’s double-image works.


























Letters

Correction June 9, 2005

  1. 1

    Both paintings are in the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, and they are reproduced in its catalog.

  2. 2

    Norton, 1998.

  • Email
  • Print