“I drank the historical Kool-Aid,” said Michael Shapiro, Director of the High Museum of Art at the preview of the new exhibition Dali: The Late Work. He was referring to the fact that art critics and historians basically wrote off the second half of Dali’s career. He was widely considered to have descended into rampant commercialism after the 1940s.
From the looks of this exhibition, it doesn’t really look like Dali cared all that much. He was too busy immersing himself in his concept of nuclear mysticism, which led him to questioning the Pope on how the Virgin Mary floated up to heaven. Or creating works of art using an octopus, rhinoceros horn, loaves of bread, a paintball gun or even his own gravity-defying trademark moustache.
He was also a tireless self-promoter, an artistic version of Donald Trump, appearing on the TV shows What’s My Line and I’ve Got a Secret. In just one example of his outrageous behavior, he appeared on The Dick Cavett Show, cradling an anteater, which he dumped into the lap of silent movie star Lillian Gish. I bet she wasn’t so silent then.
The exhibition begins with vintage photographs from Dali’s collaborations with Philippe Halsman, whose photo of Dali’s Mustache captures the personality of the flamboyant artist. His photograph of seven naked women configured into the shape of a skull is one of the more arresting of the exhibition.
Included among the paintings is “Christ of St. John of the Cross,” Scotland’s favorite painting, according to guest curator Elliott King. Christ is shown on the cross but from above, an image Dali claims came to him in a dream.
Also included are some of Dali’s portraits of America’s high society set, for which he charged huge sums of money, and his work in fashion and illustration. Dali worked again with Philippe Halsman to create “Mao Marilyn” – a blend of the pop icon’s features with those of Chairman Mao. Are you beginning to get a glimpse into the mind of this artistic genius?
Visitors can also watch a film he made, considered to be the first made by an artist, and listen to the audio tour that includes comments by Alice Cooper and the Archbishop of Atlanta Wilton Gregory. Just a hunch, but that is most likely the two of them have appeared in the same medium.
There is so much to this exhibition that I’ll be returning to spend more time inside the bizarro world of Dali and his creations. The exhibition runs through January 9, 2011 and is only being displayed at the High Museum. For more information and for special events associated with the exhibition, click here.