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Dali 100 Years

The Persistence of Celebrity

All appreciators of modern art owe a debt to Salvador Dali. Granted, he was one of those artists whose reputations inevitably precede their legacies; he's just as known for his feverish landscapes and evanescing clocks as he is for his braggadocio and impossible mustache. Dali hob-knobbed with the likes of Luis Bunuel and Federico Garcia Lorca; and he achieved international rock star status among the paparazzi, fashionistas, and poo-bahs of the avant garde. Dali was never admired for his subtlety, and his compulsive penchant for self-multiplication in both his life and his art happily invite lampooning. But beyond the impracticable clichés of surrealism and melting time-pieces, Dali's megalomania made him the most prolific artist of the 20th century-a factor that is being celebrated on the centennial of his birthday (May 11) in Dali 100 Years, on display May 12-30 at the San Francisco Concourse Exhibition Center.

Dali 100 Years demonstrates the scope of the artist's zeal and vision through over 600 works, including oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, prints, sculpture, and tapestries-making this the largest collection of Dali works for public presentation and sale. In addition, a medley of over 2400 Dali collectibles-signed books, magazines, photographs, rare catalogs, and other potpourri-will be on display.

Bruce Hochman, director of the Salvador Dali Gallery in Pacific Palisades, California, and curator of Dali 100 Years, accumulated the displayed pieces over a period of 17 years. According to Hochman, the objective of the exhibition was to concentrate on some of Dali's earliest work, pieces that showcased a palpable pre-art school genius.

Among the most popular pieces available include tapestries, prints and sculptures of Dali's now-legendary "Persistence of Memory"; the complete Dante's "Divine Comedy" (both watercolor and woodblock etchings that reveal a Blakeian mastery of color and mood), and a suite of mixed media illustrations from Dali's Tarot cards. Other pieces include Dali's first watercolor painting, a pastoral landscape entitled "Casa con Lago," and an oil painting, "Luna a la Calanque de Culip," featuring a placid moon face floating in a lagoon; Dali completed both works at the age of 10. Fodder for locals includes five original 1970 etches in the San Francisco Suite: "Mission Dolores," "Chinatown," "Golden Gate Bridge," "Telegraph Hill," and "City Hall."

As one of the later progenitors of the Surrealist movement, Dali's early style was a brilliant indicator of what would become his emblematic mélange of meticulous realism and bizarre whimsy. Dali dubbed his pictures "hand-painted dream photographs," in which recurring images self-replicated from work to work: the human figure with protruding armoire drawers; flame-entrenched giraffes; and, of course, melting watches. Dali's sculptures, such as "The Woman Aflame" and "The Vision of the Angel" demonstrate the same attenuation of limbs and distortion of body and landscape that are so paramount in his paintings-as well as a similar preoccupation with pain, death, and the demonism of nature.

Dali's Mythology Suite of paintings accentuates the arbitrary cruelty of nature and the gods in their dealings with humans, while works like "Dream Passage Arches Girl/Daphne I" reveal an obsession with the inglorious transformation of humans into objects by unfathomable forces. "Metamorphose" features a man whose head splits into gigantic watermelon slices as he is attacked by a giant beetle. Alongside this contretemps is a huge skull in the shape of a larva-a husk of virility that points to the ultimate absurdity of existence.

While many of Dali's paintings are preoccupied with the macabre eroticism of death and suffering, other works reveal an erudite interest in the world of images. Dali's 1975 collection of lithographs, "Moses and Monotheism" is a complex exploration of iconography, text, and image. Dali's self-mockery and preoccupation with motifs is evident in paintings like "George Washington and the Melting Clock," which juxtaposes an antiquated portrait of the president against the landscape of "Persistence of Memory," creating an uncanny concurrence of two widely recognized images.

One surprising facet of the exhibited works is a considerable lack of images of Dali's wife, Gala, his prime muse. In fact, while some of Dali's most prominent relationships are present in the accoutrements and memorabilia on display, they are peripheral in the gallery works.

Aside from visual talent, Dali was a novelist and writer of short stories. In his story "A Beast's Repast," he began: "Dali is a voyeur. My aversion to touch is proverbial. I love the erotic spectacle but leave its staging to specialists. Once I saw a film in which a big dog loved a young Spanish girl." This penchant for non-sequiturs and egotism can easily be correlated with his artistic prodigiousness. Like a panopticon of sensation and ideology, Dali soaked up everything in sight-and the exhibition attests to the same indiscriminate curiosity and hunger for the extraordinary that secured him a spot in the annals of art and idolatry.

About the Salvador Dali Gallery
The Salvador Dali Gallery is the world's only gallery dealing exclusively in authentic works of Dali for more than 17 years. Located in Pacific Palisades, the Gallery has held three previous exhibitions of Salvador Dali's works in Las Vegas, at UCLA in Los Angeles, and New York City. From San Francisco, the show will move to the Community Arts Center in Fort Worth, Texas.

Dali 100 Years runs through May 30.
at San Francisco Concourse Exhibition Center East Hall
(Corner of 7th & Brannan)
620 7th St., San Francisco
More info: 1-800-FOR-DALI