December 30, 2009

The total disintegration of nearly everything

When I looked at the inner side of a pot lid the other day, I thought it looked like one of Salvador Dali's rhinocerotic creations (a collection of which I featured in this particularly obsessive post). Dali thought that almost everything could be deconstructed and broken down into rhinoceros horn shapes, including human beings and their souls.

"Dust of Souls" (circa 1960) is an example:


And here's my pot lid.


The water droplets are arranged not at random, but in an order dictated by the shape of the lid. Not quite as symmetrical as Dali's play on droplet symmetry in "Galatea of the Spheres," but evocative enough to imagine a comparison.

Here's "Galatea of the Spheres" (1952)"


I probably shouldn't be eating creampuff pastries, but I got a bag of highly delicious and addictive ones for Christmas.


While they are not dangerous enough to be immediately fatal, that heavy rich filling inside has, coupled with recent events, made me think about substitute fillings that could be more immediately fatal. Each puff pastry is large enough to contain the same amount of PETN explosive (or TATP, Semtex, or what-have-you) that was found inside Umar Abdulmutallab's panties. It wouldn't be hard for your typical psychopathic Islamist baker to get enough of that nasty stuff into cream puff pastries to turn a lot of people and their souls into tiny flying rhinocerotic shapes.

And damn! If I allowed my imagination to get the better of me, I could claim that I now finally understand the clairvoyant subtext of Jerry Garcia's "Cream Puff War." The silly lyrics that for years never made sense (except as a recipe) are taking shape now:

Well, can't you see that you're killing each other's soul
You're both out in the streets and you got no place to go
Your constant battles are getting to be a bore
So go somewhere else and continue your cream puff war
I never saw any message at all. It wasn't until last week that it ever occurred to me that seemingly "innocent" creampuffs might be made literally fatal, but live and learn.

One of these days I should analyze what I saw on TV the other night....


The total disintegration of a reality show. Too many fragments of lost meaning.

HT: Veeshir for reminding me that going with the flow of doom can be a form of entertainment.

And above all, art!

March 7, 2009

taking the surreal more seriously

I haven't written about my favorite artist, Salvador Dalí, in quite some time. But I see that vintage Dalí YouTube videos continue to appear, and I thought this one was wonderful. The title is "Salvador Dali with silver ink."

Certainly the above is not political in nature, although I'm sure a PostModernist would find no shortage of things to politicize. Dalí considered himself to be a Monarchist and an Anarchist, and is said to have coined the term "Anarcho-Monarchist."

Anyway, for those who want something more blatantly political, here's the political Dalí!

November 3, 2008

That gnawing, raving feeling which eats at me....

Of all the woodblock prints Salvador Dalí did to illustrate Dante's Divine Comedy, my favorite is "Schicchi's Bite." I finally got one, which I scanned before matting and framing.

As you can see, it's not signed by Dalí, but if it was, it would have cost thousands of dollars. Even then, the man's signatures are problematic and with rare exceptions, it's impossible to have a 100% assurance that a Dalí signature is authentic. The unsigned prints are really just as nice, and they're surprisingly affordable.

The fiercely competitive theme almost reminds me of the election.


From Dante's text (which loosely supplied the idea for a Puccini opera):

"That madman is Gianni Schicchi,
who gnaws the other in his raving."
Gnaws the other in his raving?

I guess you could say that about certain types of blogging.

April 11, 2008

Investing in Spring

The following is a teensy tiny (barely 2 inches wide) sketch by Salvador Dalí which appears in Billy Rose's autobiography, Wine, Women and Words.

I love Dalí's line drawings, and this one looks a lot better in a photograph than it does in the book, because you can see the detail.


I don't know exactly what that is, but the setting of the book is New York, and Dalí lived there off and on during the time he did the illustrations for Rose's book, so I'm guessing it might be a surrealist vision of the New York Stock Exchange, being cannibalized by nearby skyscrapers.

But what do I know? I'm just a Dalí lover who lacks a Ph.D. in Art History, and is therefore not competent to issue authoritative opinions about such things.

By the way, if any of the readers of this blog look like Dalí, they're having a Dalí Lookalike Contest at the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida next week.


Film Director John Waters will be the judge, so if you look like Dalí, it might be fun to enter.

Speaking of Dalí, here's collage I assembled not long after visiting his house in Port Lligat, Spain:


Spring is finally here, and things are just starting to bud, including a baby Chinese Redwood tree which sprung up out of nowhere. Earlier today, it reminded me of the mutual interest Dalí and Federico Garcia Lorca had in Saint Sebastian, especially some of the pictures in Sebastian's Arrows.

Anyway, the tree strikes me as Dalinian, and Sebastian-like:


And poor Coco wishes I'd just cut the art critic crap and play with her.


UPDATE: Just five minutes before I published this post, Ann Althouse posted some great pictures of what I consider to be marvelously Dalinian branches. Spring coincidences must grow on trees.

March 22, 2008

"Giraffes on Horseback Salads"

No really. Salvador Dalí wrote a film script for the Marx Brothers of that name in 1937:

The "Surrealist woman" is lying in the middle of a great bed, sixty feet long, with the rest of the guests seated around each side. Along the bed, as decorations, are a group of dwarfs caught by Harpo. Each is supported on a crystal base, decorated with climbing flowers. The dwarfs stay as still as statues, holding lighted candelabras, and change their positions every few minutes.

While love tears at Jimmy's heart, Groucho tries to crack a nut on the bald head of the dwarf in front of him. The dwarf, far from looking surprised, smiles at Groucho in the most amiable way possible. Suddenly in the middle of dinner, thunder and lightning begin inside the room. A squall of wind blows the things over on the table and brings in a whirl of dry leaves, which stick to everything. As Groucho opens his umbrella, it begins to rain slowly.

Although the guests show surprise, they try for a time to continue their meal, which is, however, brought to an end by showers of rain. In a panic, the guests rush in all directions, while from the hall a torrent of waters washes in, bringing with it all sorts of debris, including a drowned ox. A shepherd makes a desperate effort to collect his flock of sheep, which climb up on the sofas and the bed in an effort to avoid being carried away by the water. A cradle is carried in on the flood containing a baby crying piteously, followed by the mother, hair streaming behind her.


The film was never made, obviously. Groucho nixed it because he didn't think it would be funny. (Probably right.)

Dalí and loved Harpo Marx confessed to a mutual admiration:

Dalí's first encounter with Harpo Marx was at a party in Paris. They confessed a mutual admiration. Then Dalí sent Harpo a Christmas present: a harp with barbed wire for strings and spoons for tuning knobs, wrapped in cellophane. Harpo was delighted and sent Dalí a photograph of himself sitting at the harp with bandaged fingers as if he'd been playing it and cutting himself on the wire.

He told Dalí he liked his painting The Persistence of Memory (those melting clock faces) and that if he wanted to visit him in California he'd be "happy to be smeared" by him. Dalí did so the following year, claiming, implausibly, that he found Harpo, "naked, crowned with roses, and in the centre of a veritable forest of harps... He was caressing, like a new Leda, a dazzling white swan, and feeding it a statue of the Venus de Milo made of cheese..."

Clearly enchanted, Dalí made two rather beautiful drawings of the comic sitting at his harp, grinning beatifically with a lobster on his head.

Here's the photo of Harpo with bandaids, playing the Dalí harp:


Makes me feel like gluing thumbtacks onto a computer keyboard -- as an artistic statement against blogging addiction!

September 26, 2007

"He just manages to find the buttons to push."

So said Philadelphia Art Museum curator Michael Taylor in a discussion of Salvador Dali:

"He's so perverse and shocking and outrageous, and he gets people's knickers in a twist," Taylor commented. "He just manages to find the buttons to push."
That is certainly true. The number of people who continue to hate Salvador Dali never ceases to amaze me. Every new generation that finds its way into art school is taught new reasons to hate him. A leading Dali dealer I know told me how much it amuses him to see young Dali fans who start out liking him, only to "learn" that they're not supposed to like him when they get to college and grow in sophistication. (It must gall the high priests of art to see Dali's work continuing to draw larger crowds than they think proper.)

Not that there weren't plenty of reasons to hate Dali in the old days. Not only was he called a Nazi supporter (an absurd idea I've discussed previously), but he was slammed as an atomic war lover in the Soviet Encyclopedia:

"If one is to believe the Bolshaya Sovetskaya Entsyclopedia (vol. 41, the article "Surrealism"), then 'the well-known representative of surrealism--the painter Salvador Dali--paints pictures extoling atomic war'. This is succinctly and expressively stated, but unfortunately it does not quite correspond to the truth. Dali does not extol any kind of war, and in general he neither extols nor passes judgment on anything. Salvador Dali, as is true of all surrealism, is a considerably more complicated phenomenon, although both are completely in conformity with the development of Western art. I don't intend to examine in detail the essence of this phenomenon, the ancestor of which is unquestionably Freud and his cult of the subconscious. I would only like to consider why museums and exhibitions which display abstract art are almost always empty, whereas there are always large crowds in front of Dali's paintings..."
And the large crowds just won't go away. Must be galling for those who teach college kids that the drippings of Jackson Pollock are infinitely superior.

As button-pusher extraordinaire, Dali even managed to push the buttons of the great George Orwell himself, who condemned Dali in the strongest terms imaginable:

...in this long book of 400 quarto pages there is more than I have indicated, but I do not think that I have given an unfair account of his moral atmosphere and mental scenery. It is a book that stinks. If it were possible for a book to give a physical stink off its pages, this one would--a thought that might please Dali, who before wooing his future wife for the first time rubbed himself all over with an ointment made of goat's dung boiled up in fish glue. But against this has to be set the fact that Dali is a draughtsman of very exceptional gifts. He is also, to judge by the minuteness and the sureness of his drawings, a very hard worker. He is an exhibitionist and a careerist, but he is not a fraud. He has fifty times more talent than most of the people who would denounce his morals and jeer at his paintings. And these two sets of facts, taken together, raise a question which for lack of any basis of agreement seldom gets a real discussion.

The point is that you have here a direct, unmistakable assault on sanity and decency; and even--since some of Dali's pictures would tend to poison the imagination like a pornographic postcard--on life itself. What Dali has done and what he has imagined is debatable, but in his outlook, his character, the bedrock decency of a human being does not exist. He is as anti-social as a flea. Clearly, such people are undesirable, and a society in which they can flourish has something wrong with it.

I'd almost swear Orwell doesn't like Dali very much.

Which is interesting, because there's no indication that the two ever met. Orwell (a favorite writer of mine) died in 1950. He tended to change his mind, though, and he might have revised his thinking had he known that Dali was also known for reversing his positions, eventually coming to fancy himself a savior "destined for nothing less than to rescue painting from the void of modern art."

Dali died in 1989, and he's my favorite artist. His personal character is about as relevant to whether I like his art as the character of Jerry Garcia (my favorite musician) is to my appreciation of his music. You either like someone's art or you don't.

Either way, I guess there's a tendency of button pushing all the way around.

September 9, 2007

Clueless Cold War surrealism

Salvador Dalí is hardly known as a political cartoonist. But it is well known that he became convinced that Soviet Communism was doomed, long before it fell. And in an ink drawing from the early 1950s, he predicted the future of Russia:


In retrospect, this looks prophetic, but from a political standpoint at the height of the Cold War, it would probably have looked like clueless nonsense by a surrealist artist best advised to stay out of politics. (Dali, of course, got into loads of trouble for incorporating Lenin, and later Hitler, into his paintings.)

But let's look at the surrealistic clues from the 1950s! Notice the once czarist double headed eagle on each side of the top of the throne, with the cross in the middle.

(The double headed eagle has been restored as the current Russian coat or arms, and Christianity has had a huge resurgence since the fall of Communism.)

The hammer has morphed into some sort of winged missile (maybe a guided missle like the G-3 or the Buran), and it has broken through and left behind the wheat sheaf which had been the handle of the sickle (a prediction that the arms race would be in clear conflict with necessities like food).

Most significantly, note that the blade part of sickle has reversed directions so that it now forms an Islamic crescent, and has been joined by the star to form an unmistakable Islamic star and crescent.

As to why the two RINOs rhinos would be propping up the Russian throne, who can say?

Ask Napoleon about the shadow.

September 2, 2007

Futuristic Forties Flashback

Needless to say, in 1942, FDR was president, and we were at war.

Artist Salvador Dalí (my favorite), having fled fascist Europe with his wife Gala, spent the war hopping between the East and West coasts, and occasionally dishing up his typically provocative, eccentric forms of war propaganda like this:


As you can see, that's an image of FDR on the upper right, and it then morphs into several less clear double images of (who are they? FDR? Lincoln?) framed by the flying attack lobsters, while arachnoid-like parachutists clamber about. (The presidential "hair" consists of angels, one of whose feet comes through the "ear" in the lower picture.)

There's a hand-written Dalinian prophecy about the future of the war (closing with "future victories of the sky") inscribed on the upper left, which you can see in more detail here:


I'm unable to find out anything about this print (issued by the New York Graphic Society), and it is not listed or referenced in any of the Dalí catalogues or archives I've seen, nor in any of the books I own about the artist. It's not worth much money because it's just an old unsigned print, but I'm delighted to have found something that I'm unable to identify, because it sheds more light on this mysterious, much misunderstood artist (who I'm sure believed he was helping the war effort and supporting the president).

I think his prediction came true, but right now I'm lost in translation and running out of time....

I'm sure it's a coincidence, but this is the second time I've been lost in the 1940s in just 24 hours.

Well 24 is 42 backwards, but as I say, I'm running out of time in the present, so these futuristic flashbacks must stop.

Seriously, I have to leave now, as I'm running late!

(Damn these time bandits! I need to, um, Dalineate my time!)

July 23, 2007

brush with Dali

I'm a Salvador Dali fan as well as a Grateful Dead fan, but it never crossed my mind to inquire whether these two forces of overstimulation of the cosmic imagination ever met up.

Until today, when, as my cosmic luck would have it, Rock Scully's "Living with the Dead" arrived in the mail. While flipping through it, I quite happened upon page 293, which relates the details of the meeting -- beginning with "Jerry Garcia fondling an ostentatiously embossed invitation...."

I couldn't find a transcription of the passage online, and I'm too lazy to transcribe portions of the book. But fortunately, a cartoonist has obliged, and here's the text of the invitation as cut from the cartoon (a cut and paste I hope Dali would approve):


According to Scully (who was the Dead's manager for years), Dali and the Dead did meet up, and it was surreal for all concerned.

While I hate transcribing, I figured one little detail wouldn't hurt -- especially when that detail involves art. While of course he's much better known as a guitarist, Jerry Garcia was also an artist (whose paintings have turned out to be quite a good investment over time), and it thus would have been natural to expect him to ask a question along artist-to-artist lines.

Jerry asks what kind of brushes he uses to get such microscopic detail.

"Tiny brushes. Tiny baby hair, soft as Gala's bottom, made from the pubic hair of capuchin monkeys."

It's exhausting being geniuses together, and Jerry goes to the bar to get himself a Bloody Mary.

Whether this is true, I have no way of knowing, but it sounds plausible. It would have been in character for Dali to give an answer like that even if it was hogwash, as he saw words as things to be used in much the same way he used paint, and he enjoyed putting people on in order to get a rise out of them.

But as a serious fan of Dali and the Dead, I thought this seemingly microscopic detail was worth examining.

Fortunately for the Capuchin monkeys, there don't seem to be any Capuchin pubic hair paintbrushes under discussion online. Or Capuchin hair paintbrushes. Hardly a thing about Capuchin monkey hair.

However, my failure to find Google references does not rule out the possibility that some artists might have used Capuchin or other monkey hair to make paintbrushes. Monkey hair has been used to make fishing flies, and according to this account, an artist named Elizabeth Andrews was willing to pay quite a lot of money for monkey hair for paintbrushes:

She offered me quite a bit of money if I could get pink-speckled monkey hair for her. Apparently, the monkey's hair makes the best paintbrushes in the world."
So, it's possible (although barely) that Dali used monkey hair brushes, although I'd never heard about it before. I think it's more likely that he heard about it from somewhere, and surrealized the details to fit the surreal narrative he liked to paint of himself. With Dali, there is no way to know.

In a way, my research into this illustrates how silly blogging can be. Let's face it, very, very few people want to know whether Capuchin public hair was ever used to make Dali's paintbrushes, or whether Dali was having a little fun at Jerry's expense.

There are, I am sure, more pressing issues facing the world today.


Like what? Like whether Rudy Giuliani screamed "bull5hit" years ago? Glenn also mentions the floating of rumors that Fred Thompson might be gay. (I was so disgusted after spending time with that non-issue that Capuchin pubic hair now looks refreshing.)

I don't mean any disrespect, but I think Capuchin pubic hair in paintbrushes is more important than whether Giuliani screamed "bull5hit," and I'll really stick my neck out here and venture that it's of greater cosmic significance than even the false gay rumor-mongering about Fred Thompson.

Can't we get a little more surreal?

MORE: I don't know why, but perhaps in a moment of weakness I succumbed to reality, and I watched (albeit grudgingly) the video Ann Althouse links of the supposedly "unhinged" Giuliani saying "bull5hit." Unhinged, my ass! He looks like a New York politician running for office in 1992.

Surely, they're not serious.

But I am serious about the need to get more surreal! As an example of how this might work, Glenn Reynolds linked a suggestion by The Economist that Fred Thompson get a toupee. With all due respect for The Economist, I think a toupee on Thompson would be downright tacky -- as well as deadly dull.

But a pink-speckled monkey hair toupee -- now, that would liven up the race.

No bull5hit!

AND MORE: As the subject came up, I thought brief word on toupee surrealism in politics would be in order. While it's been tough to figure them out, here are the rules on toupees as a political issue as best as I can determine them:

1. If you have a toupee, you will be ridiculed for it if you are a Republican.

2. If, like Fred Thompson, you "need" but do not have a toupee, you will be ridiculed for needing one.

3. If you do not need and do not have a toupee, you will accused of wearing one anyway (and ridiculed).

I don't think I need a toupee, nor would I ever wear one. So far, I have kept a low profile by not running for office and by not being Glenn Reynolds.

A pink-speckled monkey hair toupee right now would be superfluous.

May 17, 2007

"There's nothing that this man doesn't do!"

Speaking of all things Spanish and Dangerous, I don't share YouTube videos every day, but this one was just too good to ignore. Regular readers know that Salvador Dali is my favorite artist, but even though I've read a couple of biographies I'd never known that he had appeared on the 1950s TV show "What's My Line?" -- much less that the episode could be watched on YouTube. (Link here.)

The panelists are quite confused by Dali, because his answer to nearly question is "yes," and it drives them crazy. In exasperation, one finally asked "Is there something unusual about our guest?" (The answer, of course, was another "yes.")

In fairness to the panelists, Dali was one of the first performance artists, so when he answered "yes" to whether he was a performer this may have made them think in too linear a manner.

Eventually, they figure him out.

It's hilarious. A real treat.

(Of course, I'm biased in favor of the guest.)

UPDATE: A reader just emailed me about the Dali video, and says he saw it at Megan McArdle's blog. Her title?

Wow. Just. Wow.
Exactly right.

April 11, 2007

Revolutionary pustules

I run into some of the damnedest things, and in a book which arrived in the mail today (Dali's The Tragic Myth of Millet's Angelus) I found this:


Do not stupidly shrug your shoulders, those of my readers who consider the extraction of the blackheads in question a matter requiring little talent. Understand that this apparent ultra-prosaic cleaning is nothing other than the ultra-concrete personalization of that which is most vital and lyrical in contemporary scientific and artistic moral thought. Think, if not about this soft actuality, then about that super-gelatinous, nutritive modern style of compressibility about which Dali is speaking to you. Indefatigably, he is instructing you with the precise apparatus of the paranoiac-critical method in his hand every time the occasion presents itself.

With words of encouragement like that, I began my search for appropriate artwork, and by some cosmic process I really can't explain, I soon found -- here -- a comedone which seemed to have burst forth from the hyper-paranoid imagination of Dali -- whether the authors knew it or not!


Not only are the colors Dalinian, but if you look closely, you'll see that the "skin" is made from two very Dalinian crutches, pressing inward against the comedone. Normally, we think of crutches as aids, as devices used to support lame of injured people to keep them from falling. It would be just like Dali to use his famous crutches to hold in a comedone!

No, seriously. In 1933, for example, ("The Enigma of William Tell") Dali even used one of his crutches to hold up Vladimir Lenin's elongated butt cheek:


So why not a comedone?

No, I am not making a moral comparison between Lenin and blackheads. The above painting got Dali in plenty of trouble as it offended Andre Breton and the Surrealists (who were mostly Marxists), and led to Dali being expelled from the group. He was accused of favoring Hitler, which was a preposterous charge, but a typical one for Marxists to make. (Anyone who attacks Lenin must love Hitler, right?)

From Robert Descharnes' account of Dali's "trial":

I saw Hitler as a masochist obsessed with the idee fixe of starting a war and losing it in heroic style. In a word, he was preparing for one of those actes gratuits which were then highly approved of by our group. My persistence in seeing the mystique of Hitler from a Surrealist point of view and my obstinacy in trying to endow the sadistic element in Surrealism with a religious meaning (both exacerbated by my method of paranoiac-critical analysis, which threatened to destroy automatism and its inherent narcissism) led to a number of wrangles and occasional rows with Breton and his friends. The latter, incidentally, began to waver between the boss and me in a way that alarmed him."

In fact they had long gone beyond mere dispute. Contrary to Dali's wishes, the Surrealists remained devoted to Breton, their iron-fisted leader whose every order had to be obeyed. When required to appear before the group, Dali showed up with a thermometer in his mouth, claiming he felt ill. He was supposedly suffering from a bout of 'flu, and was well wrapped up in a pullover and scarf. While Breton reeled off his accusations, Dali kept checking his temperature. When it was his turn for a counter-attack, he began to remove his clothing article by article. To the accompaniment of this striptease, he read out an address he had composed previously, in which he urged his friends to understand that his obsession with Hitler was strictly paranoiac and at heart apolitical, and that he could not be a Nazi "because if Hitler were ever to conquer Europe, he would do away with hysterics of my kind, as had already happened in Germany, where they were treated as Entartete (degenerates). In any case, the effeminate and manifestly crackpot part I had cast Hitler in would suffice for the Nazis to damn me as an iconoclast. Similarly, my increased fanaticism, which had been heightened by Hitler's chasing Freud and Linste in out of Germany, showed that Hitler interested me purely as a locus tor my own mania and because he struck me as having an unequalled diaster value. " Was it his fault if he dreamt about Hitler or Millet's Angelus? When Dali came to the passage where he announced, "In my opinion, Hitler has four testicles and six foreskins," Breton shouted: "Are you going to keep getting on our nerves much longer with your Hitler!" And Dali, to general amusement, replied: "... if I dream tonight that you and I are making love, I shall paint our best positions in the greatest of detail first thing in the morning." Breton froze and, pipe clenched between his teeth, murmured angrily: "I wouldn't advise it, my friend." It was a confrontation that once again pointed up the two men's rivalry and power struggle. Which of them was going to come out on top?

Following his confrontation, Dali was given a short-lived reprieve, but then notified of his expulsion. "Since Dali had repeatedly been guilty of counter-revolutionary activity involving the celebration of fascism under Hitler, the undersigned propose ... that he be considered a fascist element and excluded from the Surrealist movement and opposed with all possible means."

Even today, Dali is criticized by leftists for disrespecting Lenin, and for insufficiently disrespecting Hitler.

The irony is that Rockefeller crutches propped up the modernism which Dali was trying to undermine:

After the war, Dali became the number one enemy of the North American art establishment thanks to his constant attacks on modernism. The irony is that Picasso, who belonged to the Communist Party, was loved by the American Art Establishment, while Dali, who had begun as a Communist sympathizer ended up expelled from the Surrealist Movement at the suspicion that he was a fascist sympathizer. The painter had painted "The Enigma of Hitler" in 1937 with a small print of Hitler's face on a dish with some beans. He explained that he wanted to understand the phenomena of fascism and besides, he had a dream that compel him to represent it.

Most modern artists are progressive and have leftist leanings. By the 50's the Rockefeller forces and the artistic communist forces united against any art that said something because the anti-Stalinist American left did not want any representational art to back Soviet Stalinism. In one of history's greatest ironies the American left backed Rockefeller, one of the world's greatest capitalist and robber barons, in the establishment of modernism as THE only art, banishing any art that resembles classicism from the walls of established art circles, with the exception of pop art and photographic realism, which emphasize the glories of North American production and assembly line.

The greater glories of understanding the mind were put aside by the American and world modernist establishment. Dali's work has been dismissed with the accusation that he was a fascist. But the real war was against his style of thought-provoking, mystical classical work and the science of painting to which Dali contributed to all his life. Modern critics never understood that Dali's use of the double, triple and quintuple image in his canvasses are not just "optical trickery" as they dismissed it for, they are important additions to the science of art.

Here's an early example (from 1931) of a double image, Dali's "Le surrealisme au service de la revolution":


(I didn't want to rotate it to the right, so you'll have to tilt your head to the left.)

"Surrealism in the service of the revolution"?

What if Dali meant it, and the Marxists didn't?

What happens when modern is not modern, and revolution is not revolution?

(The contents can be hard to express.)

April 9, 2007

The topological abduction of my unfinished post!
("The Shape of things to come?")

Because of a technical error compounded by the blog's software design, a few incomplete unpublished posts were accidentally published earlier.

My apologies to anyone who might have been confused. One of the posts -- a long one about the topological abduction of Europe -- was especially incoherent, as I was engaged in creative writing, and it might never have been finished -- like the hundreds of unpublished posts which have accumulated over the years.

All who might have read the post about the topological abduction of Europe and tried to make sense of it, please be warned that it did not make sense to me yet, and might not have ever made sense. That's why I never published it, and never intended anyone to see it. Please strike that post from your mind! I refuse to accept responsibility for spontaneously written unfinished and unpublished thoughts.

Unless and until the post is published, I must therefore retract what I never said, but which might nonetheless have been seen.

Please, all who saw, erase from your minds what your eyes saw.

The irony here is that this dealt with an issue which, though I try to understand it, evades my ability to be logical, and that is the conversion of states -- especially understanding how Salvador Dali might have seen it:

From art as a mathematical structure said the Swiss Max Bill, where he was expressing how it was possible using a mathematical framework to develop art in far-reaching ways and to connect nature and art in mathematics.


In 1972, a book appeared written by the French mathematician René Thom, Stability and Morphogenesis. Thom investigated in his book the mathematical relationships which describe the sudden conversion of one state into another state, for instance, when water suddenly freezes to ice or when water evaporates. René Thom describes the conversion through mathematical equations that may be represented as surfaces. One he calls, for example, Swallowtail, and another Butterfly. Thom's book is filled with an abundance of interesting pictures. Thom, with his investigated state conversions, coined the term "catastrophe," catastrophe elementaire, etc. The phrase "Catastrophe Theory" from Thom's book circulated through the media like a released seismic wave. Thom was not very pleased about that since his "catastrophes" had little to do with our "everyday catastrophes."

Dalí loved Thom's book; again and again he had it read to him. (There is Dalí in the photograph with the Spanish poet García Lorca.) Dalí painted then only Thom's pictures. One of his last ones had the title Topological Separation of Europe, in homage to René Thom, where underneath are the mathematical formulas for the Swallowtail, mathematical abstractions in Dalí's artistic world. (Emphasis added.)

I've discussed both of the last two paintings in a previous post, but only very superficially. Naturally, my trip to Barcelona and the area where Dali lived near the French border heightened my interest in the subject, especially because in his last years, Dali became paranoically obsessed with his hallucinations about what he saw as the catastrophic future of Europe. My goal is to explore the possibility that Dali might have been onto something.

I don't even know whether I'm up to the job, because analyzing the last hallucinations of Dali is an exercise in defiance of logic touching on Arthurian legend, the Holy Grail, Nazi excavations, the European Union, and Catalonian independence.

Let's start with the fact that a cup is like a donut. Artists are of course fascinated by shapes, and if we return to Max Bill's thoughts about art as a mathematical structure, and the possibility of using a mathematical framework to develop art in far-reaching ways and to connect nature and art in mathematics, why, the fact that a cup is like a donut is of primary importance. In the Wikipedia entry on topology, this image appears:


It is at once art and math.

Back to Dali's notion that some kind of catastrophe would befall Europe. Bearing in mind that the man was not in his right mind, despite his deteriorating nervous system, and a hand so shaky that much of the time he couldn't sign his name, he was able to paint this -- "The Topological Abduction of Europe."


But what does it mean?

Dali was convinced that the catastrophe -- the abduction, if you will -- would arise in a couple of places in the Catalonian Spain/France border area. He believed Perpignan, France, was the center of Europe and the world (and as it happens, on the outskirts of Perpignan is the ancient and abandoned town of Perillos.)

The painting was dismissed by critics as paranoid nonsense, but a group called Societe Perillos has taken it very seriously:

The enigmatic statement of Dali came to the attention of Roger Michel Erasmy, who began to explore Dali's strange world of hallucinations - an area where few had dared to go. Dali's perception as a madman was augmented in 1984, when he apparently tried to commit suicide by setting his bed on fire. But all events surrounding Dali's visions occurred before - and might have, together with the love for his dead wife, have contributed to an unsuccessful suicide attempt.

The theme of an enveloping catastrophe came to the forefront. There is the enigmatic "catastrophic writing", written in a booklet on September 16, 1982, while he was at his castle Pubol.

His final "prophetic testament" was dictated to Antonio Pixtot, his most if perhaps only trusted ally at the time, on October 31, 1983. It contained catastrophic revelations, centred around four hallucinations Dali had experienced, apparently after the death of Gala, at the end of 1982.

In these hallucinations, the French mathematician René Thom appeared. Though he had only ever met the mathematician once, in his hallucinations, Thom apparently convinced Dali of an upcoming catastrophe. Intriguingly, Dali stated that the centre of this catastrophe, which he linked with the disappearance - or abduction - of Europe, would begin between Salses and Narbonne.

The historical importance of this place is hardly the product of Dali's imagination.

The Nazis are reported to have done some serious digging there during World War II, but it's never been explained why:

just before and also during the second World War, the Nazi high command carried out systematic searches in this area surrounding the village. Anecdotal references state that the Nazi high command arrived at the large concentration camp located near Rivesaltes where they rounded up a large number of interned Jews. They were apparently given very comfortable accommodation which even had hot water laid on. They were well fed, treated politely and with respect but each they were obliged to accompany a large group of heavily armed German soldiers. Together they went in to the remote country side near to the present day village of Perillos where they carried out excavations. It was reported that at the end of the day the men would be seen returning covered from head to foot in mud. The work went on for some considerable time and then quite suddenly the men were released from captivity and allowed to go on their way. Some days later a large convoy of military vehicle was seen traversing the inhospitable interior region near Perillos. Maquis harassed the convoy to such an extent that they were forced to split up and all head in different directions. The Maquis reported that the convoy was made up of one large truck and numerous armored vehicles that appeared to be guarding it. It is believed the truck did not manage to leave the region but what became of it or indeed what it was carrying has never been established.
Assuming the report of a Nazi dig is correct, what ever might they have been looking for?

Considering that Perillos has been linked to King Arthur, the Round Table, and the Holy Grail, (more here) the report of the Nazi dig takes on an Indiana Jones flavor. Clearly, Dali knew about the importance of this place in history. He lived nearby and thought the area was the center of the world, so it's little wonder that it would preoccupy him in hallucinations in his later days.

So it's not surprising that the subject would preoccupy him in his last artistic efforts. I think there is some sort of religious dimension to this as well, and it was typical of Dali to paint things that can be seen more than one way. Geographic, topological, and even religious.

If you look at it the right way (you might need to tilt your head to see it), the "abduction" image looks like a crucified man -- not unlike the Rikers Island crucifixion I posted about last month:


Oddly enough, it appears that the figure in Dali's "Topological Abduction" painting might be wearing an octagonal crown shaped like the early crowns of the pre-medieval period.

How religion might factor into a topological abduction I do not know. Why the medieval crown, and why the critics haven't discussed it, who knows? I admit, logic escapes me here.

But what about the "conversion of one state into another state"? Considering the intersection between politics geographical maps, is there any reason not to interpret that literally?

What I couldn't ignore when I was in Dali's "abduction" area area was the fervency of the Catalonian nationist movement. Bearing in mind that Barcelona is a very left wing area, and that the E.U. has pretty much swallowed up Spain, I was quite shocked to see the order on the menus in most restaurants and on most official signs, there are translations into three languages into the following order:

  • Catalan
  • English
  • Spanish
  • The last thing I expected to see was English ahead of Spanish -- in SPAIN! I am not so naive as to imagine that this is because of any pro-American or pro-English bias. Far from being that, it's clearly anti-Spanish. I could feel the Catalonian nationalism; it was palpable.

    What are the implications about the "conversion of one state into another state"?

    Catalonian nationalism has become too powerful a force to ignore. As the Washington Post pointed out recently, the campaign for Catalonian independence is gaining strength. (Wikipedia has an entry, with a picture of the flag.)

    Where might statehood for Catalonia leave the European Union? While I'm not an expert on the complexities and I don't know whether breakaway states have the right to secede, Catalonian nationalists don't appear to be especially fond of the EU. Here's David Bassa, of the Newsroom of Televisió de Catalunya (TV3-TVC)

    most important European debates revolve around the amount of power that this or that state should have, and never go further. Consequently, if for Spanish, German or French people the European Union is something abstract, Catalan people see the European Union as a hostile structure. In a nutshell, although Catalonia has traditionally been a Europeanist country geographically situated as a wedge between France and the Iberian Peninsula, and although Catalonia has always been open to the sea and its past is intrinsically Mediterranean, Catalans still don't feel that the European Union is something really positive. We could also say that if Spain as a state is a member of the Union that is partly thanks to Catalan political will. Castella has never been pro-European, usually the opposite.
    But, in spite of all of this good-will towards Europe, Catalonia has no role in the "Europe of the states" because it is not a state. That's the reason why young Catalans with political and national consciousness who are ignored as a part of a nation by the Union, don't sense that they have any link with European institutions. Consequently, Catalan voting in the European elections has been lower than Spain's, and also, I would suggest, the new Treaty won't be easily accepted or supported in Catalonia. This is absolutely logical.
    Citing this Brussels Journal piece, Daniel Drezner discussed another possible breakaway nation -- a tiny place called "Aland." The question of secession from the EU is discussed in the comments, but again, I'm unfamiliar with the complexities.

    Again, it's just a thought. An attempt to explain what Dali might have meant.

    I'm not convinced Dali was right about the topological abduction of Europe, mind you. It's just that I felt compelled to finish an unfinished post which was abducted earlier, and I'd hate it if my favorite artist turned out to be a prophet while I was asleep at the keyboard.

    Much as I like his art, that does not incline me to regard Dali's hallucinations as prophetic (any more than I'd regard an LSD hallucination as prophetic) so color me skeptical. But the man was an artistic genius with an excellent education and a knowledge of the area, and he did rise to the occasion to come up with a very interesting painting despite his failing physical and mental health.

    (I guess it's fair to say my thoughts remain in an unconverted topological state.)

    March 13, 2007

    Without Victorian modesty, even pianos can get carried away!

    In a 2000 lecture dealing with (among other things) the mutation of "virtues" into "values," Gertrude Himmelfarb asked whether the covering of piano legs by Victorians really involved sexuality:

    This mutation in the word "virtue" has the effect first of narrowing the meaning of the word, reducing it to a matter of sexuality alone; and then of belittling and disparaging the sexual virtues themselves. These virtues, chastity and fidelity, have been further trivialized by the popular conception of Victorians as pathologically inhibited and repressed. Thus "Victorian values" have been associated with piano legs modestly sheathed in pantaloons, human as well as table legs referred to as "limbs," and books by men and women authors dwelling chastely on separate shelves in country-house libraries.

    In fact, these were not the normal (or even abnormal) practices of real Victorians. They were often the inventions of contemporary satirists (writers in Punch, for example), which have been perpetuated by gullible historians. "The woman who draped the legs of her piano," one historian solemnly informs us, "so far from concealing her conscious and unconscious exhibitionism, ended by sexualising the piano; no mean feat." In fact, it is this historian who has sexualized the piano and has imposed his own sexual fantasies upon the Victorians.

    I have a minor correction. While I must necessarily take no position on the perpetuation of satire by gullible historians (lest I get into a conflict of interest), and I cannot claim to know who is right about sexualizing the Victorian penchant for covering piano legs, I can state with some confidence that the historian Himmelfarb criticizes was not the first to sexualize the piano.

    Unless the Victorian satirists were first, I'm afraid the credit must go to Salvador Dali, who did a pretty good job of it back in the 1930s:

    Once again, here's "Atmospheric Skull Sodomizing a Grand Piano" (1934):


    And from the same year, here's "Skull with its Lyric Appendage Leaning on a Bedside Table which Should Have the Exact Temperature of a Cardinal's Nest":


    I don't know whether this means the couple had a child or just merged with each other, but the presence of the bedside table indicates some that some sort of ongoing intimacy occurred.

    I scrupulously take no position on whether any of this could have been avoided had the piano been appropriately covered.

    And at the risk of being anthropopianomorphic, I have to venture that Dali might have been using the pianos as some sort of substitute for his own libido, or maybe his sex life. Because in the same year he painted the indisputably sexualized pianos, he also painted "Cardinal, Cardinal!":


    Note the same bedside table. The man (IMO) is clearly Dali, and he's leaning towards the bedside table at the same angle as the skull does. His shirt even looks like a skull! Not only that, he's holding a pitcher (the breaking of which artistically symbolizes lost virginity), and seems unable to put it back where it belongs. The uncovered woman is of course his wife Gala. (A divorcee who could not be considered virginal by any definition.)

    As to what the reference to the "exact temperature of a cardinal's nest" might mean, I'm tempted to speculate that it might involve a failure of the human fertility cycle, and I'd note that by 1934 Gala seems to have left her fertility cycles behind her.

    Whether Dali was making any judgment about virtues or values (or what that judgment might have been) I'll leave to others.

    Politics is surreal enough as it is.

    (I've tried not to politicize art, but the piano meme seems to have legs.)

    MORE: While I wasn't thinking about her when I wrote the post, a Hot Air commenter named OBX Pete says that Hillary Clinton looks like a piano:

    I've seen her legs and believe me you don't want to see them. If you take a picture of her and crop everything above the waist she could be mistaken for a grand piano. Actually she is doing us all a favor by wearing those pantsuits.

    On the other hand, she has to work with what she was born with (as we all do) so she can't help it if she has piano legs. I'm more concerned with that ultra-liberal mind.

    I looked into this and discovered that it's worse than I imagined -- to the point where the Urban Dictionary includes Hillary in the very definition of "Piano Legs":
    1. piano legs

    Disproportionately thick calves and/or ankles on a woman with otherwise normal body weight.

    No wonder Hillary Clinton always wears pant suits. She's got a humongous set of piano legs.

    Comments (by no means limited to the right wing) about Hillary's alleged "piano legs" abound -- in the blogosphere and on various bulletin boards. And a syndicated columnist actually complained about David Letterman's failure to mention them:
    Democrats of the female persuasion, difficult as it is sometimes to tell, are off limits when it comes to insults. Not once has Mr. Letterman joked about Hillary Clinton's piano legs, Donna Brazile's weight, Carol Roberts' (the Palm Beach county balloteer and marionette for team Gore) gravely voice, or those Palm Beach voters who can't punch a chad and look like cross-dressers. Such attacks are cruel. But, John Goodman playing Linda Tripp on Saturday Night Live, now that's funny.
    I never thought about this before, but the meme is definitely out there. So I have to ask what if -- just what if -- Senator Clinton's trousers are intended as a sort of piano leg coverup?

    If we dovetail this into Ms. Himmelfarb contension that "'Victorian values' have been associated with piano legs modestly sheathed in pantaloons," what are the implications for the sexualization of pianos?

    Might the latest campaign represent a desexualization of sorts?

    March 12, 2007


    Here's Salvador Dali's version of a Dahlia from a 1972 series:


    And my photo of a disturbing scene earlier tonight:


    Outreach, right?

    Yeah, that's a form of growth....

    March 1, 2007

    sublimating my rationalizations on a nonexistent day

    My whole ambition in the pictorial domain is to materialize the images of my concrete irrationality with the most imperialist fury of precision...

    -- Salvador Dali

    Today is March 1 -- a strange day for several reasons. According to Wikipedia, today is the first day of Spring in Denmark, while in Australia, today is the first day of Fall.

    Moreover, today is Day One in the old Roman New Year -- a fact which has left its historical residue depending on how we count days:

    If one begins each year on March 1, till the next March 1, then each date will have the same day number in this year, regardless of whether it is a leap year or not (e.g. December 25 is always day 300), unlike counting from January 1. This is due to the fact that the Gregorian and Julian calendars are based on the old Roman Calendar, which had March 1 as the first day of the year. The addition of the leap day of February 29 (which is what causes the days of leap years to fall on different day numbers) is a continuation of the February placement of the old Roman calendar's Mensis Intercalaris (a shortened extra month inserted to bring the 355 day long calendar into rough alignment with the seasons).
    That's enough to drive anyone crazy.

    What I'm trying to figure out is why the day does not appear on my calendar.

    What? You don't believe me?

    Check out the photograph I just took:


    While the easiest explanation for the disappearance of March 1 is that a simple misprint occurred, I'm not so sure, because this is the official Salvador Dali calendar. Considering the following:

  • Dali was a surrealist who relied on the paranoid critical method (which assumes, among other things, that nothing is coincidental, and that mistakes are important).
  • The theme of the March calendar is the geodesic ceiling of the Dali Museum in Figueres, Spain, which is surrounded by strange figures arranged in a manner evocative of a calendar (albeit 16 of them instead of 12).
  • The blank box in the calendar which ought to belong to March 1 is directly underneath the the figure at the bottom of the calendar which is being pointed to by the index finger of the floating hand.
  • The calendar has an international flavor, as it is translated into five languages and includes more holidays and religious observances than I knew existed.
  • The cosmic significance of the galactic-like dome speaks for itself.
  • I know this doesn't prove that there's any significance to today's missing date, but considering its importance, I suspect cosmic significance of some sort.

    Whether this cosmic significance is accidental or deliberate is beside the point.

    I think Dali would agree. Consider Dali on mistakes:

    Mistakes are almost always of a sacred nature. Never try to correct them. On the contrary: rationalize them, understand them thoroughly. After that, it will be possible for you to sublimate them.
    Far be it from me to correct the sacred.

    What to do on a missing date which will live in mistakenly unmistakable cosmic significance?

    I think I'll try to rationalize the sublime, and sublimate the rational.

    MYSTERY DISAPPEARANCE UNRAVELS AS IT DEEPENS: In another amazing "coincidence," it was on March 1 that Dali's depiction of the crucifixion (which he had done for the Rikers Island jail) disappeared. As it turned out, it was stolen by prison guards and officials.

    Interestingly, Dali intended it for the prisoners' dining room so that prisoners could appreciate it, and dedicated it for that stated purpose in writing. Jail officials moved it to the prison lobby, to which inmates had no access, and from where it was stolen:

    The drawing, a surrealist image of Jesus being crucified, hung in the prison cafeteria for years before being moved to a lobby where officials thought it would be safer.

    Riker's Island's roughly 15,000 prisoners do not have access to the lobby, which is used only by prison personnel.

    "Who knew that it might have been safer left in the cafeteria?" a spokesman for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg asked.

    Who knew? Dali knew, that's who! That's why he wrote on the dedication -- right on the painting -- that it was for the prisoners' dining room, dummy!

    Here's a picture of the missing work:


    (Link via Wired New York Forum, which has a detailed article on the case.)

    It's tough to read the inscription in that picture, but according to the BBC it read as follows:

    "For the dinning room of the Prisoners Rikers Ysland [sic] - SD".
    That's certainly typical of Dali's mangled way of writing in English, but the sincerity of his message is obvious.

    The crucifixion is still missing, and I think it's appropriate that March 1 is missing from the calendar. It's as if Dali having the last laugh. At disobedient bureaucrats, and malignant prison officials. While there have been a couple of convictions for the theft, according to the testimony, the main culprit seems to have been the assistant deputy warden, who was acquitted:

    A former Rikers Island assistant deputy warden has been acquitted of charges that he masterminded the theft of a $250,000 Salvador Dali sketch from the prison.

    A jury acquitted Benny Nuzzo, 51, on Friday after a monthlong trial in State Supreme Court in the Bronx. Nuzzo had denied any role in the theft of the sketch, which was reported missing on March 1, 2003 when someone noticed that the original had been replaced by a copy. Three other men were charged in the theft, correction officers Timothy Pina and Greg Sokol and former assistant deputy warden Mitchell Hochhauser.

    Hochhauser pleaded guilty in September to one count of attempted grand larceny and was sentenced to one to three years in prison.

    Sokol, who cooperated with prosecutors, testified against Nuzzo at trial. Sokol and Pina still face charges in the case.

    Dali created the ink and pencil sketch, which depicts the crucifixion of Jesus, after he called in sick to a planned visit to the prison in 1965.

    The sketch has not been seen since it was reported missing, and Hochhauser has claimed that Nuzzo destroyed it.

    Nuzzo, who was fired after his arrest, plans to try to get his job back, his lawyer said.

    Former Assistant Deputy Warden Nuzzo did sue to get his job back, but he lost. Here's what the appellate court said in rejecting Nuzzo's appeal:
    Respondent's findings that petitioner took property from its facility at Rikers Island without proper authorization, provided false entries on his work time sheets and then provided misleading testimony during his official interview are supported by substantial evidence
    Hmmmm.... From a legal standpoint, I wonder whether the fact that the findings were supported by substantial evidence means that it's not defamatory to say they're true. (Would it be defamatory to say that OJ killed Nicole, for example, because of a civil jury's findings?)

    I'm more concerned with the destruction of art than with theft. Stolen property can always be returned. Destruction of art might not be a crime against humanity in the legal sense, but I think it's a crime against culture -- something IMO morally worse than theft.

    January 31, 2007

    Not ugly enough to appreciate?

    Barcepundit's Jose Guardia links to a fascinating piece on modern art, titled "Admit it - you really hate modern art":

    There are esthetes who appreciate the cross-eyed cartoons of Pablo Picasso, the random dribbles of Jackson Pollock, and even the pickled pigs of Damien Hirst. Some of my best friends are modern artists. You, however, hate and detest the 20th century's entire output in the plastic arts, as do I.

    "I don't know much about art," you aver, "but I know what I like." Actually you don't. You have been browbeaten into feigning pleasure at the sight of so-called art that actually makes your skin crawl, and you are afraid to admit it for fear of seeming dull. This has gone on for so long that you have forgotten your own mind. Do not fear: in a few minutes' reading I can break the spell and liberate you from this unseemly condition.

    Spengler also explains why modern artists can become rich, while modern composers starved. It's because modern art does not overwhelm the senses, while modern music does:
    Why is it that the audience for modern art is quite happy to take in the ideological message of modernism while strolling through an art gallery, but loath to hear the same message in the concert hall? It is rather like communism, which once was fashionable among Western intellectuals. They were happy to admire communism from a distance, but reluctant to live under communism.

    When you view an abstract expressionist canvas, time is in your control. You may spend as much or as little time as you like, click your tongue, attempt to say something sensible and, if you are sufficiently pretentious, quote something from the Wikipedia write-up on the artist that you consulted before arriving at the gallery. When you listen to atonal music, for example Schoenberg, you are stuck in your seat for a quarter of an hour that feels like many hours in a dentist's chair. You cannot escape. You do not admire the abstraction from a distance. You are actually living inside it. You are in the position of the fashionably left-wing intellectual of the 1930s who made the mistake of actually moving to Moscow, rather than admiring it at a safe distance.

    That is why at least some modern artists come into very serious money, but not a single one of the abstract composers can earn a living from his music.

    Return to the topic of "break[ing] the spell and liberat[ing] you from this unseemly condition," it just so happens that Salvador Dali (who called modern art a "grandiose tragedy") believed it was his destiny to rescue painting from modern art:
    Salvador means "savior" and Dalí said he was "destined for nothing less than to rescue painting from the void of modern art." Dalí disparaged modernism (which he saw as lacking respect for craft) as a dead end. He rebelled by infusing contemporary art with virtuoso draftsmanship and painstakingly realistic technique.
    In other words, he knew how to draw and paint, and his paintings actually looked like something. (Unlike Jackson Pollack, who knew only how to drip and spill.)

    The only slight disagreement I might have with Spengler is his statement that "by inflicting sufficient ugliness upon us, the modern artists believe, they will wear down our capacity to see beauty." I'm not even sure that what they are inflicting is necessarily ugliness, because that would require a depiction of something which is ugly -- which would in turn generate an emotion, a reaction. Many fine artists have accurately depicted ugliness, especially human ugliness. Depicting something like spilled paint or a solid black canvas really depicts nothing at all, and I think it's more on the level of nihilism.

    By contrast, here are a couple of Dali's depictions of ugly beings, from Hell:

    Lucifer.jpgdalisig.JPG tarbaby.jpg

    They're meant to be appreciated as ugly.

    A leading Dali dealer and art scholar told me that he loved talking to young fans of Dali who had not yet been to college, because they had not yet been taught to hate Dali.

    I'm sure the fact that Dali draws bigger crowds than "traditional" modern (forgive me) artists doesn't help endear him to professors either.

    MORE: Another advantage that modern art has over modern music is that it's easier to participate in the former than in the latter.


    AND MORE: Great news for Dalí lovers! Via Pajamas Media, the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation now has an online catalog of the works of Salvador Dalí. What's great about this catalog is that it lists the works alphabetically, chronologically, and by the location all over the world.

    January 18, 2007

    De gustibus est disputandum!

    Speaking of ham sandwiches, some people will swallow anything -- including other people:

    Marco Evaristi, an edgy Chilean artist, served meatballs made with his own fat to his dining companions at his latest exhibit in Santiago. On the plates in front of them was a serving of agnolotti pasta and in the middle a meatball made with oil Evaristti removed from his body in a liposuction procedure last year. Some of the meatballs will be canned and sold for $4,000 for 10 units. "You are not a cannibal if you eat art," he said.
    This reminds me of what Salvador Dali said after signing his name to an omelette:
    When an autograph hound asked Dali for his signature during lunch, the eccentric artist whipped out a pink marker and signed his half-finished omelet, much to the dismay of his fan. "Art should be edible," Dali announced.
    I think this gastronomic occasion calls for cannibalizing another Dali (who painted "Autumn Cannibalism" and wrote a fabulous cookbook.)

    dali soft skulls with fried egg.jpg

    The title is "Soft Skulls with Fried Egg Without the Plate, Angels and Soft Watch in an Angelic Landscape" (1977).

    My personal opinion is that it's better art than canned fat from the overweight Chilean artist.

    More tasteful too.

    January 12, 2007

    Licking the climate of blasphemy

    Among the highlights of my trip to Spain was visiting the various Salvador Dali museums including his house in Port Lligat, the official Dali Museum in Figueres, and the Castle in Pubol.

    Dali fans will immediately recognize the unmistakable landscape of Port Llligat which Dali made famous. This is the first thing you see at the crest of the hill just above his house:


    The house was originally a one-room fisherman's shack which Dali bought with proceeds from his art when he was very young, and remodeled over the years, adding a room at a time. The shack grew, meandering up the hill in haphazard fashion, eventually coming to look like this:


    Looking over to the right from my vantage point in the last picture, another view of the tiny fishing port:


    From inside the house, the view through the window of Dali's studio:


    That landscape is in the background of many Dali paintings. In fact, that very same window can be seen in the self portrait Dali did of himself painting Gala:


    While alas, I doubt I will ever be able to afford original art by Dali, I collect his prints when I can find them at decent prices, and I just scanned a recent acquisition -- "The Blasphemers" (Dali's depiction of Inferno, Canto 14).


    You can see a hint of Dalinian landscape in the background -- and of course the Dalinian crutch. According to this critic, the tongue (a skull, IMO) represents the blasphemer:

    The enormous tongue with teeth obviously represents the blasphemer's tongue, which has reduced him to a flaccid cripple, upheld by a crutch at one end, and flowing over a boundary at the other. The symbol is simply a meditation on the idea of blasphemy, and could have been created without the Dantean imagery at all, pure Dali. The case is not always as extreme, but there is no question that the enormous zest in Dali for his own symbologies and his own whimsy are the primary driving forces in the Inferno drawings, not a desire truly to illustrate Dante's text. He is not necessarily in disagreement with Dante, as Blake often is, but generally doing his own thing with themes supplied by Dante.
    I have a tendency to see Dali in Dali, and I think he is also doing his own thing by revisiting a much earlier theme.

    "Atmospheric Skull Sodomizing a Grand Piano," to be precise.

    You didn't know skulls could do that? Take a look!


    ["Sex on the Beach at Port Lligat" might be a good alternative title.]

    Here's Dali's description:

    "The obsession, accordingly to which the jaws are the most philosophic instruments that man possesses. The lyricism of the piano is brutally possessed by the jaws of a fossil skull. This vision is a retinian product, a hypnogogic image of pre-sleep, occuring in the course of a siesta, contrary to the images resulting from the effects of mescalin, which can neveer reproduce instantaneous memories."
    What Dali leaves out is the obvious similarity between skulls and grand pianos. The grand piano's shape is very skull-like, if you think about it, and the keys are like teeth.

    Were I a skull, I'd probably think pianos were at least cute, if not irresistibly sexy.

    It's not that much of a str-r-e-e-tch. And if the two managed to conceive something, I think it might look a lot like the blasphemers' tongue.

    In "Soft Self Portrait with Fried Bacon" (1941), Dali seems to acknowledge that his own head looks like a grand piano, while the uncontrollable tongue threatens to get away from his head, pulling it inexorably downward:


    Tongues, skulls, pianos, sodomy. A lot of seemingly unconnected parts to a very paranoid puzzle. It makes a great deal of sense to me, but I can't explain why. Dali being dead, the interpretation of his art can take place on an infinite playing field.

    But the best for last. There's a crucial element which makes my paranoid side wonder whether Dali might have anticipated this essay.

    Bureaucrats! And atmospherocephalic ones at that!

    I kid you not.

    In 1931, Dali painted "Average Atmospherocephalic Bureaucrat in the Act of Milking a Cranial Harp":


    As if the bureaucrats didn't have enough to do.

    (Obviously, "atmospherocephalic bureaucrats" is code language for those who have global warming on the brain, and they're planning to sodomize the lyricism of our pianos and use their unending tongues to administer an endless licking all the way to hell.)

    MORE (01/12/07): What happens when skulls and evil bureaucrats merge? In 1968 Dali did the "Aliyah" series to commemorate the founding of Israel, and one of the images seems to be (in my opinion, anyway) a revisitation of his piano-sodomizing skull.


    The title is "Yea, Though I Walk Through The Valley."

    I think the image of the skull (death) with the multitudes fleeing is an obvious reference to the Nazis (whose bureaucrats of death used the skull as insignia) and of course the Holocaust.

    (Needless to say, I think the man's utter genius will become more and more apparent over time. Many critics couldn't see past his carefully staged buffoonery.)

    UPDATE (01/15/07): I just stumbled upon another image which I think shows that Dali was quite aware of the similarity between skulls and pianos -- "Skull with its Lyric Appendage Leaning on a Bedside Table which Should Have the Exact Temperature of a Cardinal's Nest" (1934):


    If the temperature is right, fertilization occurs?

    December 16, 2006

    Being led by leading art

    I know I'm going to sound biased here, but, hey. I am biased. I like the art of Salvador Dali, and I admit it.

    With that admission in mind, I want to return to Professor Fernando Tesón's fascinating post about political art:

    ...if one believes in moral-political truths, it seems natural to recommend that artists convey those truths in a way people can readily understand. Thanks to the emotional power of beauty, art can, at least sometimes, help noble ideals reach the general public. Many of these works have great artistic value (Picasso's Guernica, for example), and some of them have surely contributed to worthy causes.

    However, political art is a special form of discourse failure. Art is a type of concrete imagery, and as such it evokes a "fact" that may activate default theories in the audience. Those willing to challenge the political stances represented by the artifact have to overcome the suggestive power of beauty. Political paintings (say, Diego Rivera's murals) often suggest causal connections that, for the reasons I indicated in my previous posts, permeate theories that people hold by default. Political art's appeal to emotion usurps reasoned political argument.

    I've never cared for Diego Rivera's murals, for they leave little to the imagination. As for Guernica, it's widely considered the most important artistic statement against war in general.


    For Picasso, though (an admitted Communist) the painting was not a statement against war in general, but as he made clear at the time, a very partisan statement against the Franco side of the Spanish Civil War:

    The Spanish struggle is the fight of reaction against the people, against freedom. My whole life as an artist has been nothing more than a continuous struggle against reaction and the death of art. How could anybody think for a moment that I could be in agreement with reaction and death? ... In the panel on which I am working, which I shall call Guernica, and in all my recent works of art, I clearly express my abhorrence of the military caste which has sunk Spain in an ocean of pain and death.
    I know art is very personal, but as a painting, Guernica just doesn't say that much to me.

    Dali's "Soft Construction with Boiled Beans: Premonition of Civil War" is another matter.


    I've been looking at that since I was a boy, and I've expressed my thoughts about it in a couple of posts:

    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."
    Unlike Guernica, it leaves a lot to the imagination, and I think it more properly expresses the horrors of war. It takes into account that war exists, that people are willing to kill each other, and that it isn't always obvious who is right and who is wrong. I feel less "led" by Dali, and whether anyone thinks he was a fascist or not (I don't think he was) is beside the point.

    Soft Construction represents the inevitability of Spain being torn apart, but I think it's more than that, as it poses fundamental, uncomfortable questions about man's nature, yet does not answer these questions or make judgments.

    Not that Dali failed to make it clear he was against war.

    In 1940, he even gave war a face:


    Here's how Dali described "Visage of War":

    "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."
    I think we can all agree that war is bad. There's something I don't like about political art telling me which side I should be on in a particular war (or in a particular struggle), as I'd like to make that decision for myself.

    Whether Dali's art is political is a more difficult question. His art is much hated by political leftists, as is he.

    I liked the fact that he refused to be led by political types, just as his art refuses to lead people by the nose.

    November 28, 2006

    How sweet an echo it is!

    "The first effect is that of anguish...."

    Not too many people know it, but Salvador Dali designed the album cover for Jackie Gleason's "Lonesome Echo" album:


    On the reverse, Dali is pictured with Gleason, and provides the following description of his art:

    "The album cover is by eminent contemporary artist Salvador Dali. He describes his conception in these words:

    The first effect is that of anguish, of space, and of solitude.

    Secondly, the fragility of the wings of a butterfly, projecting long shadows of late afternoon, reverberates in the landscape like an echo.

    The feminine element, distant and isolated, forms a perfect triangle with the musical instrument and its other echo, the shell."

    It's still for sale as a CD on Amazon.com (with the Dali cover, of course).

    That's resonance.

    November 23, 2006

    Royal puzzle

    I'm trying to figure out exactly what this is:


    It's an inscription to a book, but who in the hell is the "Comte du Liege"? (At least, I think that what it says...)

    I've looked all over the Internet, as well as in my books, but there doesn't seem to have been any Comte du Liege for a long time, and there's no particular connection between Dali and that city, so I'm stumped.

    November 18, 2006

    Female centaur victim of false labeling?

    I just scanned my woodblock print of Salvador Dali's depiction of Dante's Inferno, Canto 12.


    Commonly known to scholars and galleries as "The Minotaur," some revisionism is needed, because as anyone with a minimal knowledge of mythology can see, the image clearly shows a centaur -- and a female centaur at that. There's a male archer too who appears to have just shot an arrow, and while his involvement with the centaur is not exactly clear, she seems to be looking at him. In the background, another centaur holds a spear.

    Here's the relevant text of Canto 12

    And between this and the embankment's foot
    Centaurs in file were running, armed with arrows,
    As in the world they used the chase to follow.

    Beholding us descend, each one stood still,
    And from the squadron three detached themselves,
    With bows and arrows in advance selected;

    And from afar one cried: "Unto what torment
    Come ye, who down the hillside are descending?
    Tell us from there; if not, I draw the bow."

    My Master said: "Our answer will we make
    To Chiron, near you there; in evil hour,
    That will of thine was evermore so hasty."

    Then touched he me, and said: "This one is Nessus,
    Who perished for the lovely Dejanira,
    And for himself, himself did vengeance take.

    And he in the midst, who at his breast is gazing,
    Is the great Chiron, who brought up Achilles;
    That other Pholus is, who was so wrathful.

    Thousands and thousands go about the moat
    Shooting with shafts whatever soul emerges
    Out of the blood, more than his crime allots."

    As to the artist's own view, he seems to have been inspired by reading the text of Dante to come up with the images, but once he did the paintings he moved on to other things, leaving the publisher to come up with names.

    So collectors are stuck calling this poor girl "the Minotaur."

    ADDITIONAL NOTE: The Minotaur has a man's body and a bull's head, and there is no such thing as a female bull, so unless Dali was anticipating postmodernist interpretation, I don't think the above can possibly be construed as a female Minotaur.

    October 18, 2006

    TV for thumbsuckers

    What is a television apparatus to man, who has only to shut his eyes to see the most inaccessible regions of the seen and the never seen, . . . to pierce through walls and cause all the planetary Baghdads of his dreams to rise from the dust.

    -- Salvador Dali

    Dali wasn't terribly fond of TV, and I remember his 1968 TV Guide cover:


    I was 14 years old, and the image of the TV as a thumbnail never left me.

    Who knows? Considering that in the future music may flow through our bodies, maybe we'll be able to watch video on our thumbnails.

    October 17, 2006

    The persistence of computer memory?

    What, you're expecting a thought-out post at this stage of the blog?

    Surely, you're kidding!

    Why, it's all I can do to upload a picture of Medusa!


    Bear in mind that the galleries call the above "Manto" -- which is wrong. But I can't get into serious art criticism or history right now.

    UPDATE: What the hell is the time doing? Are we on US time or Dali tieeeeme?!? (FWIW, it's 11:14 right now, and it was 10:50 when I published the post.)

    Watches will be violated regularly, regardless of time. Time voyeurs, suspend your disbelief and wait.