News. Dalí at the epicentre of cinema

Los Angeles, 9 October 2007

The exhibition argues that Dalí’s personal engagement with cinema—as a fan, a screenwriter, a filmmaker, and an art director—was fundamental to his understanding of modernism and deeply affected the different stages of his career. Dalí is widely regarded as one of the most outrageous artists of the twentieth century and his paintings are among the most recognizable works of art made in the last hundred years. And, as the exhibition reveals, his collaborations with Luis Buñuel, Alfred Hitchcock, and Walt Disney also created some of the most memorable and influential scenes in avant-garde and mainstream cinema. 
Dalí, Paintings & Films explores his long and changing relationship with the cultural phenomenon of cinema and features approximately one hundred works from collections around the world, including a significant number of paintings. These will be seen alongside Dalí’s major film projects such as Un Chien andalou (1929), L’Âge d’or (1930), Spellbound (1945), and Destino (1946), as well as examples of the later films he created himself, Chaos and Creation (1960)—shot on video—and Impressions of Upper Mongolia (1976). Related photographs, drawings, paintings, and manuscripts will also be on view.

Dalí was part of the first generation of artists for whom film was both a formative influence and a creative outlet. Throughout his career, and in many mediums, he frequently referenced elements of cinema: its episodic nature, popular appeal, narrative structure, techniques like fades and dissolves, and strong characterization of its stars. For example, an early series of drawings about Spanish nightlife from 1922–23 illustrates Dalí’s appreciation of the strong graphic aesthetic of the silent expressionist films of that era. Later paintings like The Great Masturbator (1929) and William Tell (1930) reveal his interest in creating compositions that dissolve into other images and coincide with the artist’s first movie collaborations, films that he co-wrote with Spanish director Luis Buñuel in 1929–30: Un Chien andalou and L’Âge d’or. Other paintings such as Autumnal Cannibalism (1936) and Metamorphoses of Narcissus (1937) demonstrate Dalí’s ability to imply animated movement and narrative while even later paintings like Portrait of Colonel Jack Warner (1951) and Portrait of Laurence Olivier in the role of Richard III (1955) show how the idea and techniques of film moved from an influence on his work to its very subject at a time when the artist himself began to want to make his own movies.

Just as Dalí brought cinema to life in his paintings, his fantastical, other worldly perspective oozed onto the film screen. Both Un Chien andalou and L’Âge d’or are marked by the artist’s vivid imagination and his engagement with the Freudian theories that energized surrealism, especially the study of dreams and the unconscious. The films include haunting images—such as the slicing of an eyeball with a razor and a hand infected with ants—mirroring the disturbing anatomic depictions in major paintings of that moment, including Apparatus and Hand (1927) and Inaugural Goose Flesh (1928).

Eventually, Hollywood called and Dalí moved beyond the realm of avant-garde films. While exiled in the United States during the second world war, he began work on major studio productions. His dream-like vision proved ideal for the 1940s movie industry and on the cinema screen, where total immersion in Dalí’s imagination became possible for a mass audience. Dalí seized the opportunity to work on Twentieth Century Fox’s Moontide (although ultimately his sequence was not included in the film), Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, and Walt Disney studio’s Destino, an animated film completed 2003. The famous dream sequence for Hitchcock’s thriller brought the disquieting universe of contemporary paintings such as Melancholy, Atomic, Uranic Idyll, to grand scale but in total, Dalí achieved only limited success with these projects. His role was ultimately marginalized to the realm of fantasy and nightmare. Nonetheless, he remained an important influence in Hollywood and his impact still resonates in the nightmare sequence from the 1950 film Father of the Bride and the hallucinatory aesthetic of the 1966 Fantasic Voyage.

The exhibition brings together a team of scholars who will contribute to the comprehensive catalogue: Dawn Ades (curator of the Centenary Retrospective Exhibition), Montse Aguer (Director of the Centre for Dalinian Studies, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation), Félix Fanès (curator of the show Dalí: Mass Culture) and Tate curator Matthew Gale. The LACMA showing of this exhibition is co-organized by Ilene Susan Fort, the Gail and John Liebes Curator of American Art, and Sara Cochran, Assistant Curator of Modern Art.

Dalí, Paintings & Films is coorganized by Tate Modern, London, in collaboration with Fundació Gala–Salvador Dalí, (Figueres, Spain), and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Established as an independent institution in 1965, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has assembled a permanent collection that includes approximately 100,000 works of art spanning the history of art from ancient times to the present, making it the premier encyclopedic visual arts museum in the western United States.