Dalí: Metaphysical art?

It is common knowledge that obtaining works from international museums and private collections for Italian exhibitions is extremely difficult, if not impossible. However, this does not justify the embarrassing mediocrity of the Salvador Dalí exhibition held at the Palazzo Reale in Milan (Salvador Dalí. Il sogno si avvicina, curated by Vincenzo Trione, Catalogue - 24Ore Cultura). In reality, there are many ways of overcoming the difficulty of obtaining important works on loan so as to create a dignified exhibition from which viewers can at very least learn something. Without having to look very far, one could cite last year's exhibition of works at Palazzo Reale by Edward Hopper. The exhibition did not include more than two or three of the artist's most important works, however - thanks to the acumen shown in both the choice and juxtaposition of the works on display and the laudable ability seen in the presentation of less known works from the artist's oeuvre, as well as the presentation of meticulously researched connections between the studies, drawings and completed paintings - the exhibition was both successful and informative.


In contrast, and over and above the dull mediocrity of almost all of the works on show ( with the exception of four or five), the Dalí exhibition provided a spectacle without rhyme nor reason, from which visitors left without having understood very much of anything and almost certainly barbarized in terms of their aesthetic taste and perceptive capacity. This outcome is more than understandable given that the viewer was abandoned to himself, without any guidance, in the company of this deceptively ambiguous Catalan artist, but what is worse - in our opinion - is the curator's choice of title for his introductory essay, Dalí metafisico, and the fact that he elaborates on parallels and similarities with de Chirico, as well as forcing the concept of architectural inspiration and tension in the works of Avida Dollars (an anagram that André Breton coined in 1939 as a nickname for Dalí, thus alluding to the artist's close connection to the American market).

 
As the curator knows and states in his text, de Chirico did not hold Dalí in particular regard, nor did his brother, Alberto Savinio, who considered Dalí to be the worst of the Surrealist painters. In fact, de Chirico's view of his contemporaries was often bizarre and dictated by jealousy or the desire to shock, and in this specific case we cannot fault him. To define Dalí using the term "metafisica" in contorted, confrontational dialectics, would make the master roll over in his tomb. In fact, if there is one aspect that distinguishes Metaphysical art from Dalí's take on Surrealist art, it is that the metaphysical art of de Chirico - as he himself defined it 1918 - is "a severe, cerebral, art [that is both] ascetic and lyrical", which encompasses a rare and almost unreachable balance of emotion and reason. In contract, Dalí's art is above all that which one sees in this exhibition: a pictorial style that is full of tricks, but devoid of plastic structure and internal tension. For this reason, any reference to "architecture" - if not related to banal, enigmatic citations found here and there, is - at very least - out of place.


Today, the highly polished, perfectly blended empty spaces that fade from light into darkness - which cover nearly 70% of all of Dalí's canvases - and disappearing lines that lead towards horizons of decorative rocks and lunar encrustations - drawing on the well known equation that defines perspective as the symbolic form of memory - appear to us as small, almost vulgar tricks of virtuosity, which could perhaps be effective when applied in a cinematic context, but have nothing to do with the sculptural sense and construction of the painting. In fact Dalí's painting shared an intense connection with the world of cinema, where his inventions found their true vehicle of expression. Even the concept of the dream and any consequential dreamlike automatisms do not concretize in his painting as anything other than blending, optical tricks, disappearing lines and convergence (with their origins in de Chirico's art), fading out, theatrical light and pseudo-horror images that could have come off a fair cart. This has nothing to do with the deep thought behind the concept of the dream as a revelation of matter's spectral interior structure, architecture or skeleton found in de Chirico's work, and developed further by Max Ernst and Magritte to great effect. Furthermore, we take the liberty of noting that of late too many exhibitions are launched with ridiculous, meaningless titles. What does Il sogno si avvicina (The dream advances) really mean? This title brings to mind only one thing for an Italian - the lyrics of Faccetta nera, a military march composed for the Fascist party's colonialist propaganda campaign in 1935: Faccetta nera, bell'abissina, / aspetta e spera ché già l'ora s'avvicina ... ( Little black face, beautiful Abyssinian / Wait and see the hour coming!)


Following his adolescence as a post-Cubist painter, in the mid-Twenties Dalí would meet success as a realist painter working within the then fashionable context of New Objectivity. During this period he painted extraordinary portraits that could be compared to those by Otto Dix or some of Picasso's works, as well as disquieting still lives and torrid compositions steeped in sensual magic. Later came Eluard, Gala and the Surrealist period, during which time, and particularly between 1928 and 1933, he would use a meticulously fine pictorial technique - reminiscent of the Flemish school - to depict his irrational, paranoiac, scatological obsessions in such a shocking, pathological form that he would immediately attract the attention of the international community. One only has to think of works like Portrait of Paul Eluard or The Great Masturbator (1929), scattered with insects, ants and unimaginable horrors, to realize why his fame was born of these works. This body of paintings merits due recognition in relation to its importance for Twentieth century art history; however, at this exhibition we were not given the chance to view even a distant example.