I finally went and saw the Dali exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It’s very, very impressive, and I am glad to see this much maligned artist finally getting the appreciation he deserves. There are as many views of Dali’s life and politics as there are critics, and he remains a very puzzling, very contradictory man. Here’s a sharply critical view of Dali, while here’s one more favorable.
Personally, I love the guy’s art, and it doesn’t bother me in the least that he failed to take sides during the Spanish Civil War. Either outcome would have been awful, and the guy was an artist who hated war. He’s been unfairly tarred as a fascist, and this caused his art to be disrespected and downgraded professionally for many years. And even assuming for the sake of argument that he was a fascist (which I don’t think he was), why should this have been any more fatal to his art than was Pablo Picasso’s Communism to his?
Dali’s “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans: Premonition of Civil War” (1936) is simply fantastic, and it’s been hanging in the Philadelphia Art Museum since I was a boy. When I first saw it, I was so fascinated that I bought a small print, and I still have a print of it hanging on my wall.

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The horror and revulsion are there along with the fascination. While surreal, the surrealism is oddly real, because civil war is grotesque, twisted, and unresolvable, yet it springs from man’s nature (which is all of the above). It’s his unflinching view of horror, of human evil versus human evil, and it’s horrible despite the wishes of partisans who each wanted their human evil side declared “good.”
Here’s a painting which wasn’t in the exhibit, unfortunately:
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It’s “Visage of War” (1940), and Dali had this to say about it:

“I was entering a period of rigor and asceticism which was going to dominate my style, my thoughts, and my tormented life. Spain on fire would light up this drama of the renaissance of aesthetics. Spain would serve as a holocaust to that post-war Europe tortured by ideological dramas, by moral and artistic anxieties?. At one feel swoop, from the middle of the Spanish cadaver, springs up. Half-devoured by vermin and ideological worms, the Iberian penis in erection, huge like a cathedral filled with the white dynamite of hatred. Bury and Unbury ! Disinter and Inter ! In order to unbury again ! Such was the charnel desire of the Civil War in that impatient Spain. One would see how she was capable of suffering; of making others suffer, of burying and unburying, of killing and resurrecting. In was necessary to scratch the earth to exhume tradition and to profane everything in order to be dazzled anew by all the treasures that the land was hiding in its entrails.”

By way of stark contrast from that, here’s my favorite of the ones I saw this evening:

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That’s “Raphaelesque Head Exploding” (1951), and reflects Dali’s fascination with the ancients (that’s the Pantheon of Rome inside the head) and with the modern atomic age:

Dali imagines that protons and neutrons (and consequently the atom) are angelic elements because in the celestial bodies, he explains, “there are residues of substances; it is for this reason that certain beings appear to me so close to angels such as Raphael. Raphael’s temperature is like that almost chilly air of spring, which in turn is exactly that of the Virgin and of the rose.” And he adds solemnly, “I need an ideal of hyperaesthetic purity. More and more I am preoccupied by a idea of chastity. For me, it is an essential condition of the spiritual life.”

I didn’t want to walk away from it.
UPDATE: My head is still spinning!
Short video of Dali speaking.
MORE: I’ve often seen that even when artists have huge political differences (as did Dali and Picasso) they nonetheless get along as friends. I think the following portrait Dali painted of his friend Picasso lends support to this theory:

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Can we all get along? Como say llama Dali llama?
Oh se can you si?