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Salvador Dali: Mad Genius

Updated on March 26, 2016
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With an eye on fashion, art, music and movies, Jaynie keeps her finger on the pulse of pop culture. Why? Because it's fun.

Salvador Dali: Mad Genius

Salvador Dali

In 2005, the Philadelphia Museum of Art hosted the only North American retrospective devoted to Salvador Dali. As Dali is one of my favorite artists, I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to see this exhibit while in the city in April of that year. This exhibit showcased the largest exhibition of Dali work that the United States had seen in more than sixty years, with over two hundred pieces. The works were compiled from both public and private collections from fourteen countries.

What is so inspiring about Dali's work, for me, is that it represents what art is meant to be; provocative, thought-provoking and groundbreaking. His work pushed the boundaries of logic and good taste, but what was never in dispute, was that once it had been viewed, it could not be forgotten.

His expansive body of work covered a wide variety of media, each as impressive and controversial as the next. Elements of his art included scientific, religious, socio-political and sexual commentaries.

Salvador Dali was born in 1904 in Catalonia, Spain into a middle class family that was ruled by a somewhat overbearing patriarch. His mother was the one who encouraged Salvador’s artistic pursuits, though she likely would not have envisioned his unique and at times disturbing form of artistic expression. In his earlier years, before he dabbled in Cubism and took up surrealism, his father was also supportive, financing and promoting Dali’s first public exhibition of charcoal drawings at their home in Catalonia.

Dali’s life and talents were shaped by several pivotal relationships, the first of which was his strong attachment to his mother, whose death from cancer when the artist was only 16 was an eviscerating experience for him. For three years in the 1920s Dali was involved with Spanish writer, Frederico Garcia Lorca, who was passionately attracted to Dali. While their union was never consummated, it did, nevertheless, include a romantic element, which arguably may have categorized Dali as a bisexual. This was further evidenced by the claims that art critic, Brian Sewell, used to masturbate for the artist while laying in a fetal position along the armpit of a Christ figure while Dali photographed him and also masturbated. Despite his interest in partners of both genders, his most passionate and consuming relationship was with the Russian immigrant Gala. Dali considered Gala to be his muse and despite his father’s strong disapproval, he married Gala in 1934. Gala supported Dali’s artistic endeavors, much as Dali’s mother had, even as he aligned himself with the Surrealists and his personality and art took on ever more bizarre tendencies. As in so many other areas of his life, Dali’s relationship with Gala was born into controversy, as she was married to another artist when he began his affair with her.

Dali was a master of Cubism, Dada and Surrealism. His talents were diverse and included drawing, photography, sculpture, writing, film and, of course, painting. His most famous work entitled, The Persistence of Memory, was unveiled in 1931. This thought provoking piece was a commentary on the irrelevance of time, which Dali viewed as transient and meaningless, especially as it passes during the sleep cycle. In fact, Dali has described his paintings as “hand-painted dream photographs.” Dali reported that his inspiration for this piece came on a blistering August day as he watched a piece of Camembert melting under the sun. It was this imagery that inspired his application of the melting pocket watches to canvas. His groundbreaking piece of work has been on permanent display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City since 1934.

Salvador Dali Slideshow

In 1954, Dali completed a follow up piece entitled, The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, which is on permanent display at the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. This piece has more to do with the emergence of quantum physics and may be a representation of Einstein’s theory of relativity. The separation of the landscape into bricks and conical shapes represents the disintegration of the earth’s landscape, most particularly, of Dali’s homeland in Spain. In spite of the somber implications of the painting’s message, the fish that Dali included is representative of  the persistence of life and the linear fashion with which the bricks pull apart represents the underlying order of the natural world.

Liquid Desire Exhibition in Melbourne, Australia

If you are interested in viewing some of the most prominent Dali collections in the world, the following venue will present your best opportunity. 

Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida houses the largest collection of Dali works outside of the Europe. Here one will find 96 oil paintings, over 100 water colors and drawings, 1300 graphics, photographs, sculptures and other objects. It also houses a large archival library and other rotating displays.  

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© 2010 Jaynie2000


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    • profile image

      Meiner 5 years ago

      Great hub, Jaynie2000. Even though my interpretation of Persistence of Memory is somewhat different: I published a hub on the subject recently, in which I argue that the melting watches are symbolizing the distorted memory. But who can tell ...

    • Jaynie2000 profile image

      Jaynie2000 7 years ago

      Thank you so much. It was a great show. His work was quite provocative and intriguing to say the least!

    • cwarden profile image

      cwarden 7 years ago from USA

      Wonderful hub! He is one of my favorite artists too. I am lucky to have visited the museum and it was amazing!