Saturday, October 30, 2010

This is for REEL

With thanks to the High Museum of Art public relations team, a couple of months ago I attended a media preview for the current exhibition Salvador Dalí: The Late Work.
A few days later, in Milwaukee, at trip to The Monster Ball Tour provided a second dose of surreal, courtesy of Lady Gaga.

I read or heard over the years that Dalí infused zeal to his U.S. exhibition debut by creating a P.R. stunt, breaking into his own exhibition and getting arrested by New York City police. Everywhere you look these days, Gaga is creating a similar spectacle, sans police involvement thus far.

Among the most stunning moments of The Monster Ball is the series of video vignettes projected on a white curtain. In the mini art house films -- with Gaga, clad in some of her elaborate fashion creations including a white gown on which a female model vomits a neon green liquid to the squeals and screams (of awe and curious delight) of onlookers -- the visuals serve as filler during set changes for the event.

The complete Gaga experience from costumes to flaming props and custom guitars, and the videos in particular, made me wonder how big Dalí might be grinning if he were among the audience members. I also wondered how long it may be before Gaga will appear with her own handlebar moustache.

Today I read that the High Museum of Art is hosting its first SurREEL video contest with a deadline of mid-December. This is a tempting invitation to roll out the Flip Video camera and dust off the video editing skills.

Whether or not you choose to enter the contest, consider this recommendation and review of Dalí: The Late Work.

At the museum's main entrance to the Renzo Piano-designed structure, welcome signs covered with Dalí-esque red ants foreshadow some of the arachnid-inclusive paintings inside the venue. With ticket in hand, emerging from the gallery elevator, it's your Dalí Time, almost literally, as all eyes meet with a billboard-sized blowup of one of the Philippe Halsman's black and white photographs depicting Dalí's whiskers as the hands of a clock ("Dalí Time" appears also at the exhibition's end with a Time magazine cover among many magazine covers featuring the Spanish artist).

Each room of the exhibit includes many surprises. Among the Halsman photographs, for instance, there is a staged image in which Dalí appears to be hanging by his facial hair from a helicopter. This iconic image of the spread eagle and dangling painter appears later in some of the paintings.

Room two includes the small and beautiful painting Morphological Echo, which impressed me for its miniature detail much like the famous work, also of the 1930s, The Persistence of Memory soon to be added to the High exhibit, on loan from the Museum of Modern Art.

Bring on the ants!

Moving into the next gallery, the massive work Santiago El Grande is muy grande and draws you in for a peek up close (much like in the smaller works, this painting includes many small details worthy of close inspection).

During our media tour, some of the attending reporters took the guide's advice and got flat on the floor to gaze up at the expansive blue and white canvas. Standing at a distance, one can almost make out the head fashioned from the many arches that form a cathedral ceiling framing the centered white horse.

The same head shape appears across the room in a series of photographs of nudes who posed under Dalí's direction to form a skull. Take note of the white "teeth" made of the models' feet dusted with powder for effect.

Science and religion merge in Dalí: The Late Work through several works comprised of atomic particles turned surreal mosaics.

I also enjoyed the large gathering of portrait paintings, including a commissioned piece recognized on loan from the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. Favorite among these portraits: a painting of an unknown woman who apparently did not pay the artist, inspiring his brush to convert her likeness from socialite to Medusa. If my ex-girlfriend from St. Louis is out there reading this blog ... well, you know who's resemblance is striking in this snake head work.

It was good to see so many representations of Gala, Salvador's wife, in one place. She appears in several paintings from the early to the later years. Don't miss the Marilyn Monroe/Chairman Mao photograph and the sculptures that appear just beyond a side gallery exhibit of film works and collaboration with Andy Warhol.

By far my favorite surprise of Dalí: The Late Work appears in the final room of the exhibition.

Feast your eyes on Fifty Abstract Paintings Which as Seen from Two Yards Change into Three Lenins Masquerading as Chinese and as Seen from Six Yards Appear as the Head of a Royal Bengal Tiger. This is a painting I had not previously seen in the many Dalí books collected over the years. Bright, bold, and vivid.

And to its right is the Ben-Day Dot-filled Portrait of My Dead Brother which I had seen many times in books but now believe must be seen in person. Many of the dime-sized (or smaller) dots feature their own "personalities" while other details, observed up close (as close as security may let you get to the canvas) reveal another world from the large portrait of a boy.

It was in this final exhibition room, I asked Dalí scholar and exhibition/independent curator Elliott King whether any works by the artist (in the High exhibit or otherwise) had a specific Olympic connection. King seemed convinced there IS some possible five-ringed connection, but he could not recall one on the fly, including the Barcelona 1992 Games held near Dalí birthplace (in the moment King believed Dalí was part of Spain's Games which occurred three years after Dalí died -- we were unable to complete the interview as we were rudely interrupted by a film crew for the museum).

One thing missing from the Dalí: The Late Work -- and I believe a lost revenue opportunity for the High Museum of Art -- is Chupa Chups. Where are they? Not in the High Museum. Dalí designed the logo for this global candy brand, and it seemed a natural that these might be on hand (for sale) for folks departing the exhibit.

I wonder if the museum will hand out Chupa Chups for their Dalí-Ween Halloween event tomorrow. If not, that might chupa (suck).
It's my intention to visit the exhibition again once The Persistence of Memory arrives in November. If you have a favorite Dalí story or work to share, please post it as a comment on this blog and I'll send you a nice Barcelona 1992 Olympic pin or Olympic blog pin.

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