There’s something rather fitting about the Salvador Dali exhibition, The World of Dali, finding a home in a Dubai restaurant this week. This is the man who would wave a two-metre-long baguette at the paparazzi when living in New York; who starred at a 1968 advert for Lanvin chocolate in which his famous moustache springs upwards in ecstasy; and who once exclaimed that his love for food was such that, “I planned to build a large table made entirely of hard-boiled eggs, just so that it could be eaten.”
The legendary Spanish surrealist’s food fetish is something that curator Dilyara Kamenova was keen to highlight too. After delivering the region’s first Dali exhibition (Salvador Dali: The Memories) to Dubai in February, this new 10-week showing of his work was the perfect opportunity.
Another side of the artist
“Salvador Dali: The Memories was a very successful exhibition,” says the CEO and founder of UAE-based arts and culture company Alpha Rose. “Visitors could learn about his life, art and passions but, technically, we couldn’t present one of his important driving forces: gastronomy.
“Dali loved to mix art with food, and so in collaboration with Coya Dubai we wanted to recreate this major part of his life and career.”
Best known for eccentric pieces such as The Persistence of Memory, his fantastic 1931 painting which comments on space and time by way of melting clocks, and the 1938 surrealist object, Lobster Telephone, created for the English poet Edward James, Dali revelled in his title of King of Surrealism.
Whether instigating an art school riot in his youth or captivating a city during his extravagant life in New York – from room 1610 at the St Regis hotel, Dali would sport a golden cape of dead bees and occasionally let loose a box of flies while painting – nothing was off limits. He once even sold a fake strand of hair to Yoko Ono for US$10,000 (Dh36,731).
“One of my favourite Dali stories comes from when he was just 16 years old,” explains Kamenova. “It was when he was expelled from the Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid for a second – and final – time in 1926. On the first occasion it was because of his eccentric look. The second time, however, it came when he was asked to talk about the great masters. Dali simply replied that he knows more than all the teachers at the academy, and if he starts sharing his knowledge then they might as well all quit teaching.”
Mystery and intrigue of Dali’s work
While an air of mischief and madness ran through everything Dali touched, his artistic canon covered more than just his painterly output, and his repertoire included photography, sculpture, advertising and film – legendary director Alfred Hitchcock once had to explain to him that he couldn’t cover the actress Ingrid Bergman with live ants during a dream sequence when they collaborated on the 1945 thriller Spellbound. He also created a revolving hologram of the rock legend Alice Cooper and once drove a white Rolls Royce Phantom packed with cauliflower from Spain to France by way of artistic statement.
Artist Frida Kahlo's exhibit opens in London on June 16
At Abu Dhabi's Bait 15, artist in residence takes on whole new meaning
Why the Trump and Merkel photo echoes a 15th century Baroque Italian masterpiece
But it was his work on canvas, thickly laced with Freudian theory and attempting to bring form and meaning to his thoughts, dreams and hallucinations, that brought Dali his extraordinary fame. That, and an air of the unknown.
“How would I describe his work?” says Kamenova. “Irrational. Dali is one of the most famous figures in the history of art. He was recognised as this extravagant, eccentric person ... the King of Surrealism, a 20th century art movement which attempted to release the creative potential of the unconscious state of mind.
“Dali went above and beyond all of it, however, which makes his work full of enigma and in an ‘out of this world’ space that the rational mind simply can’t reach. Even now, most of his masterpieces remain packed full of mystery.
“Dali once said that, ‘The secret of my influence is that it always remained a secret.’ I believe that the mystery and intrigue of Dali’s work is something that arouses a curiosity within ourselves, which is why his work has remained so popular for so long.”
The free exhibition opens today and will delight fans, with 60 works from Dali’s career, including Surrealist Flower Girl (1971) and Space Elephant (1980), along with lithographs and photographs from private collections around the world. Coya Dubai will also attempt to recreate the Catalonian-born artist’s infamous dinner parties.
Considering they were said to feature the world’s finest chefs, guests in elaborate costumes, and Dali’s pet ocelot, Babou, roaming freely, you should probably expect the unexpected. But then Dali would certainly not have had it any other way.
The World of Dali opens today until August 31,at Coya Dubai, Four Seasons Resort Dubai