Museum of Modern Art
June 29–September 15, 2008
Salvador Dalí became a major force in film thanks to his surrealist collaborations with Luis Bunuel, Un chien andalou and L’age d’or, and his brief, hallucinatory dream sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Spellbound.
That trio of celluloid classics is the starting point of the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition Dalí: Painting and Film, which explores the fascinating ways in which the artist approached the relatively new medium of filmmaking. Since he was a movie fan from an early age, it was only natural that Dalí would end up making films throughout a long and ever-evolving career.
The MOMA exhibit shows that, in addition to working with Bunuel, Hitchcock, and Walt Disney -- a short, Destino, was abandoned in 1946 but finished in 2003 by other Disney animators -- Dalí was involved in other film projects that, for whatever reason, never came to fruition. Of these, the most tantalizing was a collaboration with the Marx Brothers. Dalí especially loved Harpo’s antics, and when the two met, the artist promised to write a screenplay for the brothers. The result, Giraffes on Horseback Salad or The Surrealist Woman, survives only in Dalí’s drawings and manuscripts. What a missed opportunity that the Marxes’ anarchic lunacy was never loosed on Dalí’s surreal set!
Many paintings are included in the exhibit, from iconic images like MOMA’s own The Persistence of Memory, with its melting watches, to more obscure items like the intriguing, split-personality Portrait of Laurence Olivier in the Role of Richard III. (Several of the paintings are from the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida). Helping to illuminate Dalí’s work is his correspondence with collaborators like Bunuel, along with works of art in other media, including his nonsensical lobster telephone.
The exhibition has been ingeniously set up so that large screens show various films or excerpts on a loop in the galleries, grouped together with other works related to particular film collaborations. Of course, if you walk into a gallery at the right (or wrong) time, you may be confronted by the infamous slit eyeball from Un chien andalou or the grotesque finale of L’age d’or. It's doubtful that anyone today will be shocked by the Spellbound dream sequence, which looks horribly dated; blame other movies, commercials, music videos, and TV shows such as The Twilight Zone for co-opting Dalí’s visual innovations.
Among the other films in the exhibition are Andy Warhol’s silent “screen tests” of Dalí, made in New York in 1966, and a delightfully crazed video titled Chaos and Creation. Made and submitted by Dalí when he could not attend the annual Convention on Visual Communications in Manhattan in 1960, the video is both a blueprint for and a parody of “meet the artist” programs as he playfully deconstructs Piet Mondrian’s grid-based paintings.
If Dalí will never be thought of primarily as a filmmaker, MOMA’s Dalí: Painting and Film demonstrates that cinematic thinking and representation were very important to the man and his art.