- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 13, 2005

PHILADELPHIA — Salvador Dali exhibit about to open in Philadelphia may surprise those who remember the Spanish surrealist mostly for his outlandishness, self-promotion and studied eccentricity.

While his iconic melting watches and lobster telephones are evident, so too is the Raphael-like beauty and technical mastery of Mr. Dali’s painting.

“They might have an image of Dali with dream watches and the mustache,” said co-curator Michael Taylor of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “But it’s astonishing, the range of his work. It’s really crucial, I think, to the re-evaluation of his career.”

The exhibit, opening Wednesday and the first major Mr. Dali retrospective in the United States since 1941, moves from the artist’s fine-art training through cubism and Freud-driven surrealism to his later interest in nuclear science and Catholic mysticism.

More than 200 paintings, drawings and sculptures are on display.

The paintings include such intricate miniatures as “Dreams on the Beach” (which measures just 3 inches by 23/4 inches and features a young, sailor-suited Mr. Dali in the corner) to his anti-war diatribe, “Soft Construction With Beans: Premonition of Civil War,” a 1936 piece some critics compare favorably to Picasso’s landmark “Guernica.”

“He wants the Spanish Civil War to be seen as a really monstrous thing that’s ripping the country apart. He didn’t want to take sides. I think Picasso wanted to take sides,” Mr. Taylor said.

As for his trademark whimsy, the exhibit offers Mr. Dali’s curvaceous, pink lip sofa (a homage to Mae West), a Venus de Milo sculpture adorned with pompoms and drawers and a hologram image titled “Portrait of Alice Cooper’s Brain.”

Mr. Dali (1904-1989) spent most of his life in Spain but sat out World War II in California. He also ventured into film, fashion and writing.

He wrote the screenplay to the surrealist Luis Bunuel 1929 classic, “Un Chien Andalou” (“An Andalusian Dog”) and — long obsessed with Freud’s writings on the interpretation of dreams — scripted the dream sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound,” which can be viewed at the show.

Sex — or angst about it — was Dali’s prevailing obsession, as evidenced by the recurrent limp objects (the soft watches in “The Persistence of Memory”), leaping horses (Freudian code for sexual desire) and Oedipal references.

“The great twin leitmotifs of the 20th century — sex and paranoia — preside over his life, as over ours,” essayist J.G. Ballard said, as quoted in the museum’s hefty, 607-page exhibit catalog.

By the 1950s, Mr. Dali added science and spirituality to his palette, while playing with depth to create what he called a fourth dimension.

In “Nuclear Cross,” 950 floating gold cubes form a cross around a circle of bread, which he said showed the cross “disintegrating … as all matter is broken up into molecules and all molecules into atoms.”

“The Sistine Madonna” depicts an image of Raphael’s Madonna inside a nearly wall-size blowup of Pope John XXIII’s ear. The picture is meant as a playful nod to the medieval notion that Mary was inseminated by the word of God when the archangel Gabriel spoke to her. The pope’s picture, an enlargement copied by Mr. Dali, appears as a wall of halftone dots — the type of optical illusion that pop artists Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Chuck Close would later practice.

Mr. Warhol, like other young artists, adored Mr. Dali both for his art and for his embrace of celebrity.

Unlike most art peers, Mr. Dali was a media darling who sat for interviews and held court at the bar of the St. Regis Hotel in New York. His flamboyance led at least some art critics to discount all but his surrealist work.

“People have tended to dismiss the late work as a whole, all 40 years of it,” Dali scholar Dawn Ades of England, who co-curated the show, told ARTNews this month. “But when you look more closely, you see that Dali is in fact a sort of cusp between modernism and pop art.”

The exhibit, which closed in Venice last month and will not make any other stops, runs through May 15.

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