I do not consider myself a generally lucky person but via a bizarre stroke of good fortune a few years ago, when visiting New York for the first time, I managed to somehow be there at the same time the MOMA was holding a Salvador Dalí exhibit. Okay, not just a Dalí exhibit, the Dalí exhibit; in true MOMA fashion, it was absolutely enormous and complete, borrowing items from the Gala-Dalí Foundation as well as private collections all over the world to put together some sort of comprehensive inventory of his work. I consider myself privileged to have been able to see, with my own eyes, theoriginal set backgrounds painted by Dalí for the dream sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound”. That’s something in and of itself – so, clearly, I wasn’t expecting to have the opportunity to witness this sort of exhibition again in my lifetime. Luckily (and there’s that word again) I was wrong.
The “Dalí. Un artista, un genio.” (Dali. An artist, a genius.) exhibit, currently on display at the Complesso Vittoriano in Rome until July 1st, stands on its own two feet. While the MOMA focused on showcasing Dalí’s complete body of work, this one is centered around the man himself (comparing the two is like comparing a curriculum vitae to a biography). Compensating for the small number of oil paintings, the Complesso Vittoriano borrows and presents several other obscure items, including recordings of public appearances, emphasizing the person more than the artist. The first thing you see, for example, before even going up the stairs, is an enormous picture of Salvador himself, and then a corridor made up of portraits of Dalí taken by Philippe Halsman.
The astounding thing about this exhibition is the variety of the items on display – as in, the kind of items – since only about one fifth of it consists of oil paintings. There are sketches and unfinished concepts, dozens of illustrations and studies for some of his famous works, a collection of magazines with covers made by him. The top floor holds the original costumes made for Shakespeare’s Rosalind/As You Like It, an incredibly array of photographs of Gala, Dalí and their friends, the renowned Mae West sofa and even a Vespa signed by him. A screen plays “Destino” (Destiny), the would-be collaboration between Dalí and Walt Disney that was dropped during their lifetime and only picked up and completed during the Fantasia 2000 years.
More than an exhibition in a gallery, “Dalí. Un artista, un genio” comes across as a story. As you go through the halls, whether you do it in order or not, you feel a connection not only with the artist, but with the man himself; the exhibit focuses on Salvador Dalí, not his work, and comes together like a puzzle. Piece by piece you begin to feel as if you are somehow managing to decipher him, drawing you further in to the mystery and wonder that this great man was. It’s a very intimate showcase, both in size and nature, and you definitely do learn from it, picking up bits of personal Dalí trivia here and there.
This exhibition manages to stand as a semi-open window into both man and artist’s surrealist soul, helping warmth and understanding creep into a place where before there was only pure and simple admiration. A man with an ego, driven by love and a particular point of view; “Dalí. Un artista, un genio.” challenges the fine line between madman and genius, placing Salvador Dalí right in the middle of it.