Dali’s bizarre imagery in his sculptures and prints

Salvador Dali is said to have described his paintings as handmade dream photographs. The hallucinatory and eccentric compositions that he produced are actually the closest that painting has come to the coded language of the unconscious mind. This is what places his work at the crux of the surrealist movement, even though several years after the artist’s official acceptance into that movement, he was criticized for his political conservatism and counterrevolutionary ideas which, in 1939, led Andre Breton to expel him from the surrealists’ ranks. By then, Dali had already produced many of the works that not only won him his worldwide fame but also became some of the most iconic works of surrealism. For many critics, Dali’s classic surrealist period is the most creative of his entire work and the basis around which everything else developed. This solid place that Dali holds in the art of surrealism is underlined in «Salvador Dali: The Myth of Surrealism,» a small exhibition on the artist’s sculptures and prints that just opened at the Byzantine and Christian Museum. The exhibition is jointly curated by art historian Athena Schina and the Belgian QuArt’s curator Pick Keobandith. It is organized by Art & Culture in collaboration with the museum. The lack of any particular theme is something of a drawback, yet the exhibition’s exclusive inclusion of sculptures (12 original and an equal number of multiples) and prints (a total of 21) gives it focus and reveals a lesser-known side of the multifaceted work of the great surrealist painter. Besides paintings, Dali also worked in sculpture, prints, jewelry design, book illustration and film. Panels that explain Dali’s work or include some of the artist’s sayings help to further an understanding of his work. The exhibition represents all the major stylistic aspects of Dali’s work. Works like the «Otorhinological Head of Venus» (1964), in which a classical bust of Venus is presented with an ear for a nose and vice versa, show the surrealist aspect of his work, while sculptures such as «Twisted Christ» (1976) suggest the artist’s postwar interest in religion and his research into synthesizing scientific research with art. (At the time he was experimenting with electrolysis and used the method to produce this particular piece of sculpture.) Dali believed that scientific knowledge should not be segregated from other fields of knowledge and claimed that specialization was one of the problems with the modern age. He strove to find ways of combining seemingly opposing elements: matter with the immaterial, science with religion and spirituality. The apparently melting forms that recur in the artist’s work are said to capture that interest in the immaterial. They appear in «The Sublime Moment (Large Ashtray)» (1974), one of the most characteristic works of the artist’s surrealist pieces and one of the exhibition’s highlights. Based on one of Dali’s famous paintings from 1938, the work is considered to express the instability and uncertainty of the interwar period. A black substance coming out of a telephone headpiece – the phone suggests the diplomatic negotiations that were carried out between various governments – meets the melting side of an upturned plate on which two fried eggs have been placed. A razor, snail, sardine and miniature crutches complete the image and are placed in a way that suggests a precarious balance. Dali’s work is about overturning order and challenging an understanding that follows logic and the conscious mind. In the Venus bust – a work inspired by the Venus de Milo – the replacement of a nose for an ear challenges our notions of beauty and points to the dark, unexplored area of the subconscious. Dali made several works based on the Venus of Milos; in one full-bodied sculpture of Venus which is also one of Dali’s best-known works (but not part of the exhibition), the figure opens up into drawers. These are meant to be the drawers that contain the unconscious mind and the enigmatic language of our dreams. Dali made that language the essence of his art. He is said to have claimed that to look at the world objectively one has to see through the eyes of one’s mind. His bizarre sculptures presented in the Athens exhibition underline that conviction by suggesting that imagination and creativity expand our understanding of the world. «Salvador Dali: The Myth of Surrealism» at the Byzantine and Christian Museum (22 Vassilissis Sofias, tel 210.721.1027) through March 24.

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