Dalí 
The Genius’ Spell 

2nd of June 2018 – 14th of October 2018

Salvador Dalí, Saturnische Giraffe, 1974, Kaltnadelradierung auf Farblithographie mit Prägung ©messmer foundation

Salvador Dalí (1904 – 1989) is incontestably one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. Born in Figueras in Northern Spain, Dalí already fascinated his audiences with surreal, imaginative and often puzzling works during his lifetime and has ever since been regarded as a genius.

Once before, in 2010, the kunsthalle messmer dedicated a successful exhibition to this exceptional artist. This year’s excellently curated exhibition features a new collection of graphic works and sculptures, which have never before been displayed in this region. Typical motifs and symbols from Dalí’s œuvre, like melting objects, elephants and burning giraffes, can be detected in about 150 masterful artworks. Besides having a profound imagination and the courage to be innovative, Dalí was a very skilled artist, producing elegantly and colourfully modelled woodcuts and photo-realistic images in the style of the Old Masters.

Dalí’s artistic career began at a very young age. At a mere fourteen years he displayed several oil paintings in Figueres’ local theatre, sparking the interest of renowned art critics. In 1922, he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid. Alas, being of the opinion that his teachers were not competent enough to evaluate his art, he left in 1924.

Besides his art, Dalí was preoccupied with Sigmund Freud’s theories on psychoanalysis, which inspired his surrealist artworks. At the same time, he also wrote theoretical texts about the Old Masters of fine arts, like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Velázquez, El Greco and Goya, emulating their styles throughout his life.

Around the year 1929, Dalí found his personal style; the world of the unconscious mind as it appears in dreams. Since then melting watches, crutches and burning giraffes have been distinctive features in his paintings and evolved to become emblems of the surrealists. That same year, Dalí moved to Paris, where he frequented meetings of the surrealist group around Max Ernst and René Magritte and met a Russian woman, Elena Diakonova, called Gala, who was at the time married to French poet and fellow member of the surrealist group, Paul Éluard. Soon Gala became Dalí’s lover, companion, muse, inspiration –and obsession. As early as 1930, Dalí acquired a fisherman’s cabin in Cadaqués, where he lived at Gala’s side until her death. Throughout the decades the house expanded immensely into a villa, which is open to the public as a museum today. After Gala’s death, Dalí moved into a castle in Púbol, where he stopped painting in 1983. In 1989, after years of fading health, Dalí died in Figueres of heart failure.

An astounding feature of Dalí’s œuvre is his openness towards innovation and his ability to quickly and skilfully adapt to different artistic means of expression while staying true to his own style. Between 1950 and 1952 Dalí produced one hundred impressive colour woodcuts to illustrate Dante’s narrative poem “Divina Commedia”, 48 of which can be seen in this exhibition. Another literary cycle illustrated by Dalí and currently on display are etchings of Goya’s “Caprichos” from 1977, which were altered and amended in a surrealist way. Depictions of optical illusions or negative spaces, seeming infinite and strange just like the human mind, are part of the exhibition as well.

Next to his love for painting, Dalí experimented early on with different graphic techniques, exploring new expressive possibilities. Following the method of the Old Masters in the 19th century, the artist worked closely together with engravers, when producing printing blocks and plates in the 30s and 40s. He commissioned etchings from his pen and ink drawings and revised them afterwards. Owing to the immense reach and distribution of the consequent prints and the various innovations in his graphic works, he belongs to the great graphic artists of the 20th century. As early as the 1970s, Dalí advanced to become one of the best-selling and most popular artists.

Within his œuvre his printed graphic works constitute a self-contained world. In his etchings, lithographies, woodcuts and mixed-media-graphics the onlooker is presented with a great array of past and present issues about literary and philosophical questions as well as about natural sciences. The focus always lies on the systematic approach and understanding of the unconscious and subconscious, the world of dreams, desires, mystical visions and, in the end, knowledge of the self. His graphic works do not only illustrate but take the viewer to great depths with their indicative and interpretive tendencies. 

The diverse and fantastic artworks presented at the kunsthalle messmer invite visitors to discover “The Genius’ Spell”. A catalogue comes along with the exhibit. It is on sale in the museum shop.