In writing about art and artists, day after day, I make a conscious effort to showcase artists whose work I don't like. I try to be objective. I try not to let my distaste for their work color what I have to say, although I sometimes mention the fact that a given artist is not my "cup of tea" if for no other reason than to alert the reader to the fact that there might be some unconscious bias in my words. On the other side of the coin, for the same reason, I guess I should also alert the reader when I talk about the work of an artist whom I really like. Just yesterday, in fact, I mentioned that Salvador Dali was an idol of mine. Well, BIAS ALERT, there is a show opening tomorrow at Washington, DC's Hirshhorn Museum showcasing "Dali's Optical Illusions" which seeks to uncover a little more "meat" in the artist's work than may have been known in the past.
For better or worse, all too many people think first of Dali the showman, or Dali the limp watch painter when his name comes up. Well, there's little of the former and none of the latter at the Hirshhorn. Instead, we see work done in the fifties for Alfred Hitchcock's and David Selznick's movie, "Spellbound." As the title of the show indicates, there is much of Dali's little-known experiments with three-dimensional illusions. The Hirshhorn has gone out of its way to rig up several of Dali's paintings in stereoscopic fashion, employing mirrors and other optical devices to allow viewers to enjoy the genius of Dali as he intended. Particularly noticeable is a harbor scene employing a rather enormous female nude.
There was also a political side of Dali. His "Soft Construction with Boiled Beans," painted during the Spanish Civil War, depicts a dissected human body strangling itself. When the Second World War forced Dali to flee to the US, he painted a painting of a bronze bust of the Native American, Chief White Eagle. It's entitled "Nieuw Amsterdam." Reflected in his eyes are Dutch burgers congratulating themselves on the purchase of Manhattan Island for the proverbial twenty-four dollars, toasting one another with a bottle of Coke. Although the show hopes to in some part "resurrect" Dali as an important twentieth century artist despite his crass showmanship, it still allows Dali to be Dali. While there are no limp watches, there is a floppy cello and wavy piano keys for the diehard Dali enthusiast. And, there's also a nod toward Dali, the egotistical clown, as well in his "The Sun and Dali" complete with his trademark long, thin, curly mustache. The show runs through June 18, 2000, then travels to The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh through October 1, 2000.