Call us crazy, but we did it… Paris in 24 hours! After surviving a snowstorm in Belgium, the scary window washers in the périphérique (that literary don’t get out of the way) and the brutal traffic around Gare du Nord we arrived at the car parking underneath Centre Pompidou. The car parking is already worth a trip by itself; Dan Flavinesque lighting accompanied by opera music. Surfacing to the square in front of the modern art institute by elevator we encountered a huge line of people all excited to see this winter’s big exhibition. This season the museum pays tribute to one of the most complex and prolific great figures in 20th century art, Salvador Dalí, more than thirty years after the retrospective that the institution devoted to him in 1979-1980. And we wouldn’t miss it for a thing!
Often criticized for his theatricality, his liking for money and his provocative stance on political issues, Dalí is both one of the most controversial artists and one of the most popular. This exhibition sets out to throw light on the full power of his work and the part played in it by his personality and his strokes of genius as much as his outrageousness. The retrospective shows his great masterpieces, like The Persistence of Memory or more commonly called Melting Watches, and his most well known theatrical work, but also his early paintings, sketches and studies. And it is these miniature drawings that are most interesting; dreamy, elaborate stories are drawn up into frames that are barely a few centimetres square. Another highlight is the great selection of less familiar films, extracts from broadcasts and happenings. They show Dalí as a real pioneer of his time and give his perspectives on the works of Piet Mondriaan and abstract painting. Also a rare animation by Dalí in collaboration with Walt Disney is on display, showing how the artist’s characters and creatures can be transferred to a cartoon.
The exhibition shows a grand overview of Dalí’s, often hallucinatory, oeuvre. However the presentation of the retrospective isn’t all that exciting. The audience enters the U-shaped exhibition through a big egg, within which Dalí is curled in the foetal position; the egg forms a symbol for the prenetal and intrauterine. Moving along, the artist’s works are placed on walls and in vitrines, quite old school for a progressive modern art museum. The audience is taken on a journey of historical and unknown pieces accompanied by simple texts that explain how and by whom the artist was influenced. This path is not so much chronological; it is divided in different themes, like the artist’s reinterpretation of Millet’s Angelus and the artist as scientist. It is incomprehensive why the curators chose this categorization, since the surrealist artworks really loan themselves for a more complex setting. The focus on pertinent themes already is a great desertion from scandalous biography, however the execution is still quite dull.
Nevertheless the staging of Dalí’s work of The Rita Mae West Room is original. The museum visitor can take place on the famous lip sofa, set in the features of the actress. The image of the art lover in the installation is projected on the facing wall, which can be photographed. As a result the museum visitor ends up with a photo of himself in an iconic Dalí artwork. A good example to explore further possibilities of exhibiting the surrealist works in exciting ways that trigger the audience and give another perception of Dalí’s opus. The French institute could have gotten more inspiration in The Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres - Spain, the largest surrealist object in the world, built by Dalí himself. The museum exhibits the artist’s eminent theatrical works, sculptures, sketches of weird creatures and grand (ceiling) paintings. It meticulously puts together the diverse artworks in wunderkammers and playful installations where the audience can wander trough the labyrinthine mind of the artist.
Maybe the Centre Pompidou’s curators have more luck breaking set patterns in another 30 years.
Until March 25, 2013