The Unseen Dali: The simpler side of Surrealism
Friday 17 December 2010
The Unseen Dali is an exhibition of 40 or so works, spanning the artist's entire career, many of which have never been shown in the UK before (seven of the drawings have never been exhibited at all). While Dali's reputation as an exhibitionist is made explicit here by the show's semi-naked centrepiece, "Bust de Femme Rétrospectif" – a milliner's bust with cobs of corn across her shoulders, ants on her face and a baguette on her head – the exhibition reveals another side to the artist: a simpler, more low-key draughtsman, painter and sculptor interested in colour, landscapes and the human form.
The exhibition is curated by two Dali aficionados: Enrique Sabater y Bonany, who was Dali's personal secretary for 12 years and Beniamino Levi, an Italian art dealer. Levi first met Dali in 1973 at his studio in the Hotel Meurice in Paris, where Dali and his wife would spend four months of every year. Among Levi's Dali commissions is "Profile", a bronze sculpture of a pocket watch draped on the branch of a dead tree, and 1971's "Objet Surréaliste à Fonctionnement Symbolique", an assemblage of objects including a matchbox, a wooden spoon and a shoe that belonged to Dali's wife.
Of the paintings, one of the most arresting is 1941's "Sewing Machine with Umbrella in a Surrealistic Landscape", a dream-like study for an unrealised film project due to be directed by Fritz Lang, but cancelled because of the Second World War. But it is his drawings that are most unexpected. Here, a pencil drawing of Llongos Bay depicts a tranquil orchard overlooking the sea in which fishing boats chug in the distance. An ink sketch, "Reflections", depicts the female form in a classical style redolent of Michelangelo.
These aren't the doodles of a young Dali yet to discover his true visual calling. Some were created when he was at the height of his Surrealist powers, while others were composed in his twilight years when his celebrity had waned. Look at the Saint Sebastian drawing next to the milliner's bust and it's hard to imagine how they can have been fashioned by the same hand.
But few people can be a prancing exhibitionist every minute of the day. The Unseen Dali perhaps offers us a parallel existence, a glimpse of what this famously outré artist got up to on his days off when he wasn't keeping up appearances.
The Unseen Dali, Modern Masters Gallery, 23 Cork Street, London WC1 (020 7734 9246; www.modernmastersgallery.com) to 28 February
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