More than a mustache

The Dali exhibition at Tel Aviv Port draws the crowds.

Croquet, via ‘Alice in Wonderland’: Lewis Carroll’s dreamy yet disturbing undertones mesh with Salvador Dali’s surrealist style (photo credit: RACHEL MYERSON)
Croquet, via ‘Alice in Wonderland’: Lewis Carroll’s dreamy yet disturbing undertones mesh with Salvador Dali’s surrealist style
(photo credit: RACHEL MYERSON)
An exhibition of Salvador Dali’s works is currently showing at Hangar 11 of the Tel Aviv Port. It is rare for such a substantial show to grace the White City, and this retrospective caters to everyone, those wanting to learn more about the iconic artist as well as those who are more familiar with his works.
The exhibition is extensive, showcasing varied and often surprising gems sourced, primarily, from the private collection of Juan Javier Bofill, co-owner of the Dali Museum. From illustrations intended to accompany an edition of Dante’s Inferno to decadent jewelry, the exhibition demonstrates the eclectic range of Dali’s artistic works.
While the show was originally scheduled to run until July 2, its success has ensured that it has been extended to a currently undetermined date. Even at lunchtime on a weekday, there was an impressive throng of visitors, and at weekends it is reportedly “packed.” To enjoy the exhibition leisurely, reserve at least an hour, though Dali fans could easily while away an afternoon. It is also worth picking up an audio guide, packed with easily digestible information, yet in depth enough to satisfy multiple levels of knowledge.
The exhibition starts with a series of portraits of Dali taken by his good friend photographer Marc Lacroix in 1971. The artist’s signature twirled mustache and eccentric appearance reassert the most common perceptions of Dali as a larger-than-life entertainer, the living, breathing manifestation of his art. Lacroix styles Dali, among many things, as a king and as a priest, reflecting or perhaps asserting Dali’s own efforts to become synonymous with the Surrealist movement.
The audio commentary hints at the complexities of Dali through a succinct history of his life, documenting his expulsion from art school in Madrid after claiming that none of his professors were competent to assess his work, to his official acceptance into the Surrealist movement in 1929, his fascination with Sigmund Freud’s theories, marriage and death.
The complexities of Dali’s repertoire are showcased in many ways throughout the exhibition. There is, however, a fascinating emphasis put upon the artist’s interactions with Creation, the Bible and Judaism, that has remained largely unexplored by his critics. We are first introduced to a tapestry collection from 1975, representing each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. While the show’s narrative is keen to interpret this as Dali’s tribute to the Land of Israel and the Jewish people, there is a brief mention of controversy among Dali critics as to how sincere he was about the Jews, and reference to rumors that one of the fundamental reasons for his expulsion from the Surrealist movement was his anti-Semitism. Certainly Dali’s deep interest with both Hitler and Franco prior to and during World War II caused friction with his contemporaries.
Yet, as becomes more and more evident throughout the exhibition, he was a man who recognized the commercial value of unpredictability, unafraid of dipping his toes into many artistic media and drawing on often conflicting interests and inspirations.
Dali’s most enigmatic work relating to Judaism, a 25-lithograph series named “Aliya, the Rebirth of Israel” which showcases the historical connection of the Jewish people to Israel, is unfortunately not included in the exhibition. There is, however, a collection of heavy bronze mezuzot each adorned with the letter shin, and engraved with Jewish motifs such as the Western Wall. Unlike the Twelve Tribes tapestries and “Biblia Sacra,” a watercolor series painted in 1963-4 (also exhibited, which includes numerous surreal depictions of biblical stories and themes), the mezuzot cannot be dismissed as a fascination with the Bible, but show an interest in Judaism.
In addition to complexities of semiotic opinion, the exhibition embraces the variety within Dali’s breadth of work. His illustrations featured in the 1969 edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the dreamy yet disturbing undertones of the book bringing to the foreground Dali’s surrealist style emphasizing Wonderland’s strange and magical glory. His illustrations intended for a limited edition of Dante’s Inferno commemorate the 700th anniversary of the author’s birth. The commission, given to Dali by the Italian government, was ultimately revoked due to his Spanish roots, which were deemed inappropriate to honor the Italian Dante. The illustrations are as haunting as one might expect, yet often display a surprising ease of soft, watercolored paint strokes and bright, primary colors. One is instantly plunged into the dark yet uniquely creative depths of Dali’s imagination.
Other notable features include jewelry: heavy, gold pieces encrusted with diamonds and as exuberant as one would expect from such an artist. They are not for the faint-hearted, although they can be perfectly imagined adorning Dali’s fingers, fitting with his self-analysis, “From these [Arabic] origins comes my love of everything that is gilded and excessive, my passion for luxury.”
This, and his bold statement “I am Surrealism,” are showcased in his collection of self-portraits, cementing his self-curated image and dallying with gender lines, often depicting himself with a feminine face. This contrasts wonderfully with a series of drawings, “Dali’s Horses,” in which he reasserts his masculinity through the strong, muscular bodies of horses in movement, perhaps a response to his own doubts regarding his virility.
The exhibition ends with Dali’s lithographs of the future; colorful pieces that are as much an indulgence of imagination and mystery as a serious prediction. The sweeping lines, bold palette and fantastical inventions are as varied and incohesive as Salvador Dali, the persona and the art. One walks away dazzled, which I believe would have been precisely the artist’s wish.