Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dali & da Vinci - Where Minds, Machines and Masterpieces Meet

"American Neighbors" by Roger Shimomura (1996)
When Janice and I headed to St. Pete last week, our primary destination was the Museum of Fine Arts.  I'd never been to the Museum before, and its current exhibit entitled "Monet to Matisse on the French Coast" sounded worth the journey. We enjoyed the Museum, which is the equivalent of a Whitman's sampler with small collections of everything from Renaissance art to Modernism. The Monet to Matisse exhibit, though, was not particularly exciting. In fact, my favorite visual of the day was a contemporary work in the exhibit on Japanese woodblock prints -- "American Neighbors" by Roger Shinomura.

And so we were glad we had decided to add the Dali Museum to our adventure.  Janice had never been to the Dali before, and  I was interested in the Dali & da Vinci exhibit.  While I always love visiting the Dali, I didn't have high expectations for the da Vinci show. Both the Warhol and Picasso exhibits at the Dali were interesting, but nothing worth writing home (or blogging) about.  (Having said that, it was a Dali-esque experience to do a "screen test" a la Warhol in connection with that exhibit. Click here to get a sense of how painfully long five minutes can be.)

Dali at International Surrealism Exhibition
The brochure for the exhibit explains that both Dali & da Vinci "shared an ambition to use the tools of art to explore the whole of the human experience." Of course, their approaches to accomplishing this goal were somewhat different. 

When we entered the gallery, I was drawn to a small (kind of creepy) recreation of an underwater breathing apparatus that da Vinci had designed.  On the adjacent wall was this picture of Dali wearing the diving suit in which he delivered a lecture at the London International Surrealism Exhibition in 1936.  (Dali apparently almost suffocated during the presentation and had to be released from the suit by a fellow participant.)  Why, you might ask, would he lecture in this gear? Because "artists, like deep sea divers, explore the unconscious to surface hidden treasures of the mind.
Dalinian Analysis of Famous Artists

Janice and I got a huge kick out of Salvador's "Dalinian Analysis" of the work of 12 artists, including himself.  He rated renowned artists from da Vinci to Picasso to Vermeer in nine categories like color, originality and composition.  Dali awarded da Vinci a score of 20, the highest possible mark, for genius, mystery and authenticity.  In fact, with a maximum possible score of 180, da Vinci received a 166.  Dali awarded himself an aggregate score of 148; Mondrian's total was 4.  

Rendering of "The Sacrament of the Last Supper" (1955)
Given Dali's respect for da Vinci, it wasn't surprising to find that Dali tipped his hat to him on several occasions -- sometimes even in a serious way. Dali's Masterwork "The Sacrament of the Last Supper" is his homage to da Vinci's "The Last Supper."  This rendering was displayed with a copy of da Vinci's work and the red lines show how the compositions of the works align.  The work is done in a style Dali referred to as "nuclear mysticism." 
Halsman's "Dali as Mona" (1954)

Dali is Dali, though, and he sometimes couldn't resist his creative impulses. With the help of photographer Philip Halsman, Dali became da Vinci's Mona Lisa.  This 1954 photograph seems to reference Marcel Duchamp's "L.H.O.O.Q.", a work in which the Dadaist gave Mona a moustache and goatee. Dali takes it a step further, imposing his own eyes and moustache on the work along with his hairy hands clutching some gold coins.  When Halsman asked Dali what he saw when he looked at the photo he responded by saying -- with reference to the money -- "a paragon of beauty."  (For a hilarious look at other artists' take on Mona, click here.)

The Dali-daVinci exhibit runs through July 26th.  Check it out if you get the chance.    

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