A hundred years of Dali HeadlineHere are some more or less random quotes from Salvador Dali that might convey a sense of his personality:
― “The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant.”
― “The world will admire me. Perhaps I’ll be despised and misunderstood, but I’ll be a great genius, I’m certain of it.”
― “Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”
― “Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.”
― “My work is a thousand times better than all of Picasso’s work put together.”
To most casual museumgoers, Salvador Dali ― an exhibition of whose work, marking the centennial of his birth, is currently at Hangaram Design Museum at Seoul Arts Center ― was simply a great painter. To those more familiar with his work, he was also an eccentric writer, a brilliant sculptor, an experimental filmmaker, a shameless showman and the classic example of the mad Surrealist.
Salvador Dali was everything that defined the Surrealists, a European artistic movement whose heyday was in the 1930s. Dedicated to expressing the workings of the subconscious, they swore off logical comprehension of art.
Dali was known for using bizarre dream imagery to create surreal landscapes. But as may be apparent from some of the quotes above, much of his reputation for eccentricity had to do with his public persona.
In Spain, Dali became a constant source material for gossip columnists by doing unusual things to draw attention to himself. His outlandish humor, evident in his frank portrayal of sexual and scatological subjects in his paintings, and his flair for attracting scandalous publicity, as when he confessed to a fascination with Hitler, often annoyed his critics and strained his relations with other members of the Surrealist movement. The group finally rejected him in 1939, after Dali publicly supported Spain’s right-wing General Francisco Franco.
Dali was well-known as a self-publicist in the worlds of advertising and Hollywood. He got attention for using the ends of his mustache as paintbrushes. His flashy outfits and arrogant gestures in front of cameras helped him build a public persona in a manner not unlike that of American pop artist Andy Warhol decades later.
Dali’s flamboyant image, which has survived his 1989 death, has become something of a cliche, having little to do with the actual value of his work. In this sense, the exhibition at the Hangaram Design Museum, mainly featuring the artist’s smaller “souvenir” pieces, tackles a relatively neglected aspect of his work.
Later in his career, Dali spent much time producing objects that existed on the borderline between works of art and functional objects.
He designed a cupboard drawer inspired by the statue of Venus; a lobster-shaped telephone; a famous sofa, “Mae West Lips,” inspired by the notorious Hollywood actress. He produced small, jewerly-like pieces in bronze and crystal; famous designers like Paul Smith, Moschino and Paco Rabanne continue to credit Dali’s works as a source of inspiration.
Titled “Genius of Imagination,” the Hangaram show gathers 340 Dali pieces on loan from the Stratton Foundation in Switzerland, and depicts a side of the artist perhaps unknown to much of the Korean public: that of Dali the stylist, as opposed to Dali the serious conceptual artist.
The exhibition displays photographs, collages, furniture and rare hand-signed etchings and lithographs illustrating works based on themes taken from literature and other creative fields besides the visual arts. It portrays Dali as an art celebrity who challenged the aesthetics of Western art in a variety of fields.
To stress this point, the organizers included clothes by notable fashion designers who were inspired by Dali’s designs, and held a fashion show in the museum lobby on opening night.
To give the show a Korean context, artists Choi Jeong-hwa and Lee Han-su were asked to design the overall exhibition display.
Such a strategy ends up shedding more light on Dali’s style than on his deeper artistic ideas. This was not entirely intentional.
One of the reasons the local organizer decided to focus on Dali’s design works for the Seoul exhibit was that, this being the centennial of his birth, most of his paintings are being shown elsewhere. There are currently three major Dali exhibits underway throughout the world, including in Spain, the United States and Russia.
As a result, there are no paintings in the Seoul exhibition. Instead, it comprises the world’s largest collection of Dali sculpture.
“I find it particularly intriguing that Dali described his three-dimensional artworks as those he created when he was alone and wanted to relax from tension that bothered him frequently during the day,” Catherine Tomasetti, a Strattor Foundation assistant curator who worked with My Artlink in Korea to bring the show to Seoul, said in an email.
Many of the sculptures use themes from Dail’s paintings. Perhaps the most familiar is “Profile of Time,” a watch melting over the branches of a tree, based on his 1931 painting “The Persistence of Memory.”
Highlighting yet another facet of Dali’s work, “Un Chien Andalou,” a landmark Surrealist short film on which Dali collaborated with the director Luis Bunuel, will be screened throughout the exhibition.
“Our goal was... to allow the public to see how incredibly prolific Dali was,” Tomasetti said. “That’s both in terms of the number of artworks he created, as well as the techniques in which he worked.”
by Park Soo-mee
“Genius of Imagination” runs through Sept. 5. For more information call (02) 735-5616. To get to Seoul Arts Center, take subway line No. 3 to Nambu Bus Terminal Station and use exit 4 or 5. There is a village bus running from the station to Seoul Arts Center. Admission to the exhibition costs 12,000 won ($10) for adults, 8,000 won for students. The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.