Salvador Dali exhibit comes to Philadelphia

The name itself, Dal?, conjures images: clocks dripping over the gnarled branches of trees, elephants and horses snarling and rearing up on spindly legs, tigers leaping from the mouth of a fish to pounce on a woman dreaming and adrift on an iceberg.

With such clarity existing merely in the mind, to actually see his creations in the flesh is nearly startling – the experience is just a short drive away at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which is hosting an exhibition of Salvador Dal?’s work.

Assembled to honor the centennial anniversary of Dal?’s 1904 birth, the exhibit debuted in Philadelphia on Feb. 16 and will run through May 15 in its sole appearance in the United States.

Ticketing information is available on the Museum’s Web site, Admission for the general public is $20, but students are eligible to receive discount tickets for $17.

The exhibit showcases the artist’s output from the tender age of 13 to the time of his death in 1989. It includes landscapes of the Spanish seaside where he grew up, his famed Surrealist pieces of the 1930s and ’40s and surprising religious works from the ’50s and ’60s. In all, over 200 works in the forms of paintings, films, sculpture and collage are on view.

The halls of the exhibit carry you chronologically through Dal?’s career, starting with his earliest years in Cadaqu?s, embodied by the brilliantly colored Mediterranean seascapes he created before attending the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid.

In school, he befriended poet Federico Garc?a Lorca and filmmaker Luis Bu?uel. Together the three strove for what they called “strident and revolutionary activities.” It was Dal?’s aspirations for the avant garde that led to his expulsion from art school in 1926 after he declared that his professors were too incompetent to judge his work.

While Dal?’s work to this point had toyed with established notions of the experimental, like post-impressionism and neo-cubism, after his expulsion, he took a strange turn. Instead of portraying abstract images through abstract art, he sought to imbue his visions with hyper-realistic clarity. So Dal? began his weird dance with Surrealism.

Surrealism, a movement officially founded by French writer Andr? Breton, was a call to artistic action based on the ideas of the unconscious as posed by psychologist Sigmund Freud and philosopher Carl Jung. Surrealists strove for creative expression of the unconscious through automatic writing and drawing.

Dal?, officially welcomed into the Surrealist movement by Breton in 1929, claimed that an active, irrational thought process would categorize confusion and lead to a total disregard of accepted notions of reality.

His paintings were dreams, meaningless until put down on canvas, and then analyzed for their unconscious worth – ideas that led to such works as 1929’s “Accommodations of Desire” and 1930’s “William Tell.”

Dal? was a central figure in the movement through the rest of his career, despite being officially ousted in 1939 for what Breton saw as his brazen commercialism. He produced an enormous catalogue, creating work through what he called the paranoic-critical method. By inducing a state of paranoid delirium, he claimed his unconscious could project its own images onto the objects around him, allowing him to see what Freud dubbed “the secret rapport among things.”

This artistic outlook led to many of Dal?’s most famous works, including 1936’s “Soft Construction with Baked Beans (Premonition of Civil War),” a piece he painted before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War and “Autumn Cannibalism.”

It also led to experimentation with double images: likenesses bleeding into one another, the shape of one object meshing almost imperceptibly with another, such as in 1938’s “The Endless Enigma.” A bowl of pears is a brow and a cello and a boat is a pupil, combining into the apparition of a face; a mountain becomes a vague anthropomorphic figure lounging before a green and gold sky. Everything is just a little more than what it seems.

Dal? also experimented in film, designing a dream sequence for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 film “Spellbound,” as well as sets for a number of ballets.

It is truly difficult to comprehend the scope of Dal?’s mad genius. This region has been afforded a rare opportunity to appreciate his work for its worth: a purging of the illusory unconscious, a translation into something strangely palpable, something earthly and lucid.

-Matthew Fair, Managing Editor; Ashley Marty, News Editor