My trip to Barcelona this summer ended in a very last minute journey to Figueres, birthplace of the artist Salvador Dali, and also home to his famous 'Dali Theatre-Museum'. Despite only having just under two hours to explore before having to leave for the airport, the fast-forwarded dip into Dali's world made an unexpected impression, lasting enough for me to want to share some of my thoughts. (n.b. I am definitely no Dali expert, so feel free to comment!)
Coming from the colourful Gaudi stamped Barcelona, Figueres was certainly a more understated alternative. There were no signs of melting town clocks or intriguingly placed rock formations, and 'Donde esta Dali?' just resulted in some slightly bemused expressions and vague pointings. After 10 minutes walk, we saw some enormous yet familiar looking golden eggs perched on the roof of a giant red-brick building, and so we entered.
One of the things that struck me was that the theatrical location of the museum very much suited the essence of Dali’s work. Exhibitionism is definitely one part of the Dali show. The entire building for example circles around a gigantic installation called ‘Car-naval’involving a black Cadillac, a slave sculpture and a precariously balanced boat on top of a column made of tyres. Oscar-like gold figures stand around it, perched within the building windows, behaving like a virtual audience that you can actually stand behind and look at the sculpture with. In fact, it emerges very quickly that both inside and out, you are simply being asked to look, even if you have no idea what it is you are looking at, or where it might be leading you. There are no neatly captioned explanations for the puzzled voyeur and instead, every installation comes with the same stamp – what you see is what you get, (even if it is a hippopotamus balancing two walruses and a teaspoon, and your overwhelming impression is that you don’t ‘get’ what you see at all).
Dali, the ultimate trickster, is always playing with your gaze. Some people
might recognise the famous ‘Sala Mae West’- a huge double-entendre meshing the
infrastructure of a lounge and isolated parts of a face, that when viewed
through a magnifying lens, frames what I suppose is an exaggerated (and slightly
grotesque) picture of Hollywood beauty. I managed to successfully spot the
bathtub on the ceiling, but hiding just behind this huge installation in the
dark of the wall, and spotted by my 100% vision-seeing friend, were two tiny
viewing holes, that when looked through opened up into a secret green glowing
enchanted forest world. I have no explanation, but here’s a photo .. -->
Examples of this kind are evident wherever you go, but look up another sensibly titled quick example: ‘Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters becomes a Portrait of Abraham Lincoln’- a painting which just struck me as its pixelated colours are beautiful up close, but Holbein-style, are not quite what they seem.
Most of the works manufactured new realities by setting contradictions (of content, colour, size) against each other and presenting them for us to look at. By purposefully not shying away from life’s often aesthetically unpleasing complexity, Dali dispels and questions certainties and structures– arguably a crucial essence of theatre too. The most obvious example seemed to be his displacement of Renaissance classicism; female statues were slashed, perfect bodies cut into drawers, a Michelangelo-esque fresco instead displaying two giant feet, dancing together on the ceiling. In some paintings, he masters the perfectly intricate detail of neo-classical scenes, and then places large square blocks of pixelated colour on top, perhaps proving a new mastery of style, one that is instead trying not to make sense.
There is plenty more to say about the museum- Dali’s fascination with excess, works were dripping with gold and jewels, there was an unexpected corridor devoted to his prints commemorating the creation of Israel (see http://www.lockportstreetgallery.com/alijah.htmfor more), but I’ll stop for now! All in all, the visit definitely changed my opinion of the flamboyant Mr Dali, the moustache-twirling, crazy ideas man who liked butterflies and clocks and opened my eyes, quite literally to a completely different reality.