A surrealist in Istanbul

Sakıp Sabancı Museum is hosting 270 works by Surrealist master Salvador Dali, one of the most important artists of the twentieth century. Through 20 January 2009.

It is 1928... Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dali y Domènech arrives in Paris together with Louis Buñuel. The pair spend long hours together discussing their dreams.  “What would you say,' says Dali one day, “to making a film based on our dreams?” A year later 'Un Chien Andalou' is in the works. The artistic collaborators continue the shoot without even telling their artist friends about the project. A few scenes in the film, in which Buñuel and Dali both have roles, have to be cut due to their tight budget. Following no particular story line, the film consists, like dreams, of a series of disparate scenes strung together with no regard for chronological order. When they are finished shooting, Man Ray, Louis Aragon, Max Ernst, André Breton, Paul Éluard, Tristan Tzara, Jean Arp, Magritte, Picasso, Le Corbusier and Cocteau are the first to see it. In the heady atmosphere of artistic creativity in Europe between the two wars, it is an age of new ideas, and Salvador Dali is now a leading member of the Surrealist movement with which he feels a strong affinity. In the same year he meets Gala (Helena Dmitrievna Deluvina Diakonova) whom he will later marry and who will have a great influence on his work. These are also the years when Dali's life and works begin to exercise a profound impact on art history.

Numbering Georges de Chirico, Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst among its representatives, Surrealism was a movement that gained currency in the 1920s. Dali, who was pursuing his work with characteristic zeal, designed every painting like a frame in a film, incorporating ordinary, everyday details. A film that comprises the entirety of the products of his labile imagination and the images that floated freely in the recesses of his mind. Simultaneously it is a reflection of his entire life: his days at the Madrid San Fernando School of Fine Arts, the years spent with Gala, the discoveries and inventions that interested him so much, all find a place in his paintings.

He did not shrink from  ideas that would be shunned by society. Indeed, it is perhaps for this reason that he is known as much for his life as for his work. In July 1952 he wrote in his journal:  “Some day, thanks to me, people are also going to be forced to take an interest in my works. This is a far more effective route than reaching out to an artist's personality through his oeuvre. The thing that would move me the most would be to know everything about Raphael's personality.”

Dali was born in Figueres in the north of Spain and spent his most prolific years with Gala at Port Lligat at the country's northernmost point. He made the following note in his journal when he was painting his famous scene, 'Ascent into the Sky': “While eating breakfast I realized that I am the first Spaniard the sun reaches every morning. Yes, even at Cadaques, just 10 minutes from here, the sun appears later.” Spain's north coast, rocky promontories, sea and natural landscapes figure prominently in Dali's paintings, now as the main theme, now as background. And a visit to northern Spain today therefore means discovering Salvador Dali at the same time. The Dali Theater-Museum at Figueres, the Salvador Dali Museum-House at Cataques Port Lligat and the Gala Dali Chateau at Pubol make clear what it meant 'to be Dali'.

For Salvador Dali was not merely a surrealist painter; he also designed Gala's costumes, fashioned jewelry, designed theater sets and show-windows, choreographed ballets, and shot numerous films and photographs. Even the tiniest detail in these creations overshadows his controversial personality to affirm his indisputable genius.

While Dali was pursuing his unique experiments, he fell out with André Breton, one of the pioneers of the movement, over his political views and a short while later was dropped from the group. Breton even penned an anagram 'Avida Dollars' on his name, branding him as 'greedy for dollars'. Dali would go to great lengths in his journal to claim that he was misunderstood and that the political figures in question had only awakened his creative enthusiasm.

At the outbreak of the First World War he traveled to America with Gala and in 1941 held a retrospective at New York's Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). He wrote his autobiography, 'La vie Secrète de Salvador Dali', the same year. The Dali era was continuing.

Burning giraffes (Burning Giraffe, 1936-37), melting clocks (Melting Clock, 1931) and deformed bodies found their way into the luminous atmosphere of Dali's paintings in which time and space were are conspicuously absent. Dali was profoundly influenced by the writings of Sigmund Freud. And while he did not espouse the Surrealist concept of automatism, or automatic writing that followed no logical sequence whatsoever, he did take a more favorable view of it than some other Surrealists, dubbing it 'critical paranoia'. The period, which he labeled 'Nuclear Mysticism', coincided with the years when he got interested in the physics of the atom. Not only did the development of nuclear physics inspire him with awe, its findings and discoveries played
a major role in his works. Every work he produced continues to astonish us today and to prompt us to ask ourselves if he was a genius or a madman. But perhaps he already answered that question years ago: “It is not necessary for the public to know whether I am joking or whether I am serious, just as it is not necessary for me to know it myself.”

In cooperation with the Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation, the Sabancı University Sakıp Sabancı Museum (SSM) is now enabling even more people to make the acquaintance of this strange man in an exhibition, “A Surrealist in Istanbul: Salvador Dali”. The exhibition, which runs from 20 September 2008 through 20 January 2009, features some 270 of the artist's works, including oil paintings, drawings and graphics, as well as manuscripts, photographs and documents. In the nature of a comprehensive Dali retrospective, with works from the Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation collection, at the same time it has the distinction of being the largest temporary exhibition of the artist's work to be mounted outside the foundation. SSM aims to introduce Dali to the Istanbul public in all his many facets through a series of events including lectures, gallery talks, films and children's educational programs which are being organized in conjunction with the exhibition.

Aphrodite of Knidos
Oil on canvas, 1981
140x95 cm

Surrealist composition with invisible figures
Oil on canvas, ca. 1936, 60.9x45.8 cm

The Harmony of the Spheres
A stereoscopic work in a single element
1979, Oil on canvas
100x100 cm

The Bacchus Wagon
Watercolor on papier-maché
1953, 76.5x101.5 cm