living in a surrealistic world, a quarantine-induced theme park
of dreams, hallucinations and unsettled fears.
None of us can wait for the day we'll be able to relegate
this upside down world to the rear view mirror.
Now looking back, my visit to the Salvador Dali Museum in Paris last fall
was perhaps a premonition of things to come, his melting clocks and
fantastical sculptures not quite as absurd as I previously thought.
The museum, Espace Dali, packs a punch.
Whether you like him or you're otherwise inclined and tend to
avoid this brand of modern art, the museum is worth a visit.
Smack in the middle of Montmartre, the small space fills every nook
with the surreal, a dreamscape of wild imagination that made me feel as
if I was live streaming directly from the artist's unhinged subconscious.
One thing is certain, Dali's art is not demure.
He delivers the goods -- in all caps and exclamation points.
The disorienting artist spent a lifetime
expressing his dreams and fantasies.
He produced a massive collection of paintings and sculpture --
even furniture -- that exposed his far-flung imagination.
From pornographic sketches that are both amazing and provocative
(don't worry, you won't seem them here) to a living-room setting brandishing
a sofa with all the hallmarks of Mae West's lips, a visit to
this museum is an unforgettable brush with talent and weirdness.
"I am not strange. I am just not normal"
and soon fell in love with the masters; Goya and Rembrandt were favorites.
Eventually expelled from art school*, he found his way to Paris
where he became friends with many of his idols.
Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro introduced Dali
to the godfather of surrealism, writer/poet André Breton.
This audaciously creative group of artists and intellectuals throbbed
with a kinetic energy, focusing on endless debate that centered
on the subconscious, psychoanalysis and sexual repression.
Together they pushed one another to create an artistic rainbow
that linked the dream-world with their own reality.
*He refused to sit for final exams since, in his view, he was more intelligent than his professors
Regrettably, some of Dali's more biased visions didn't sit well
with many of his most talented friends.
Though immensely gifted and focused on promoting their emerging
surrealistic movement, Dali became an outlier
as soon as his political leanings became known.
The avant-garde artist, so hip and progressive on the outside,
held a morbid fascination with authoritarians like Spain's Francisco Franco.
Most of his compadres leaned left but Dali's far right
political mindset isolated him from the rest of the group.
His sick obsession with Hitler* quickly led
to the end of many friendships.
*Dali's painting, "The Enigma of Hitler" was not one of his better loved works
While he enjoyed dallying with the diabolical and depraved,
he also knew the value of being popular and admired.
The feud both emboldened and bothered him for the remainder of his life.
"Let my enemies devour one another."
The fashionable artist would sometimes change his "look" by
switching to yet another exotic mammal -- an anteater. Um, sure....
Thinking I could never relate to such a free spirit*, when I eventually
discovered his famous melting clock was inspired by a block of Camembert
melting in the sun, I could see it was possible we could be simpatico -- at
least when it comes to dreaming about French cheese.....
*ok, what I really mean is nut-job.
Espace Dali shows off the artist's lighter side, iconic mustache
and carefully curated far-flung imagination.
It's pretty jaw-dropping to realize he could paint like the masters
but chose to fall off the mountain of "normal" to create a category
of art that demanded four-alarm fire attention.
Salvadore Dali's ambitions were sky-high.
As he stated so bluntly, "At the age of six, I wanted to be a cook.
At seven, I wanted to be Napoleon and my ambition has been growing ever since."
He would go to great lengths to satisfy his artistic and commercial appetites.
And it worked.
Their unconventional marriage added to the legend of Dali.
Gala Dali operated as both wife and chief promoter.
She facilitated many of his shows, exhibiting extraordinary business
acumen while maintaining a passionate interest in surrealism.
Gala, Russian-born in 1884 -- was first married
to famous French poet Paul Eluard.
Gala's first affair (pre-Dali) -- rumored to have been a menage-a-trois between
her, first husband Eluard and French surrealist Max Ernst, disclosed the type
of behavior that would soon be commonplace in her second marriage.
Gala threw Eluard over when she met Dali and eventually they married.
It was a strange union.
Twenty years his senior, it was a way-out love match to say the least.
She continued to enjoy many affairs yet Dali steadfastly remained
head-over-heels in love with his lusty wife/manager.
Without question, she cared and motivated her husband's artistic genius.
Yet at the same time, she spent his money as fast as he could
make it -- usually on young lovers who were half her age.
On the eve of her death, Gala was 84-years-old and involved
with a 22-year-old Broadway* star.
*Jeff Fenholt of "Jesus Christ Superstar fame
When Gala died, Dali placed two tombs side-by-side with a tiny space
in the middle so they could hold hands for all eternity.
"I love her more than my mother, more than my father,
more than Picasso, more than money."
Salvadore Dali speaking of his wife Gala
He was resolutely committed to his craft,
living and producing from inside his subconscious.
What an interesting place that must have been.
Genius or clown?
That's for you to decide.
His art is indescribable; I won't even try.
The next time you're in Paris, I hope you'll give this museum a look.
Paris unfailingly unlocks our imagination; Espace Dali may
take that insight one step further.
"While we are asleep in this world, we are awake in another one."
Perhaps that explains the cockeyed inside-out world we're living in today....