Keeping it surreal: Dali in Dubai

Grazia meets Salvador Dalí expert Nicolas Descharnes for the guest curator’s take on Dubai’s latest blockbuster exhibition...
Keeping it surreal: Dali in Dubai

Intimate portrait of Dali on display in Dubai

A SPECIAL SHOWCASE OF SALVADOR DALÍ’S WORKS opens in Dubai this week – marking a first in the Middle East and becoming the latest in a line of major international exhibitions in the UAE.

Featuring lithographs, photographs and original paintings, Salvador Dalí: The Memories shines a spotlight on the work of the iconic Surrealist artist. With a creative output spanning seven decades and an oeuvre underwritten by Freudian psychoanalytical theory – and one which strives to create a visual manifestation of his dreams and hallucinations – Dalí once said of his works, “The fact that I myself, at the moment of painting, do not understand my own pictures, does not mean that these pictures have no meaning; on the contrary, their meaning is so profound, complex, coherent, and involuntary that it escapes the most simple analysis of logical intuition.”

Portrait of Dalí with a Jasmine by Robert Descharnes

As part of the Dubai show, Dalí’s mid-century oil-on-canvas work, Shower of Jasmine, will be exhibited to the public for only the third time in its history, while photographs of the Spanish artist, taken by his close friend Robert Descharnes and selected by his son and exhibition guest curator Nicolas Descharnes, will also be displayed. These intimate, behind-the-scenes portraits shed new light on Dalí’s artistic process and capture the mood and environment in which he worked.

With such a wealth of photographs of Dalí taken by your father, how did you go about selecting those that would be exhibited as part of Salvador Dalí: The Memories?
When selecting the pictures, we wanted to offer the public an accurate portrait of Dalí as a whole. We also want people to see him posing with the elements that he associated with his work and used to create pieces. Where Dalí lived and his workshops were also key, as it shows where some of his most iconic pieces were made.

Intimate portrait on display in Dubai

What light can the photographs shed on the Dalí paintings that will also form part of the exhibition?
A few of the photos selected show Dalí with rocks and vegetation, such as the portrait in front of a cypress tree, with dandelion flowers on his moustache and a jasmine in his hair. All these pictures symbolise eternity, knowledge and beauty. All these come from the earth and speak to us through symbols, which you can also find in his artworks. His inspiration came from the places he lived, and man-made endeavours such as architecture and world discoveries. His quest is the mystical and scientific cosmogony.

How do Dalí’s works transform the anxiety of the subconscious into something more positive?
The first thing you need to do when you face anguish, anxiety or trauma is to realise it. Then you need to understand it. You can psychoanalyse – thanks to Sigmund Freud – and you can wait for exterior signs to understand what is happening to you. In his works, Dalí used messages or images from his subconscious, explored a kind of melting reality and considered how to combine them all in a painting. It’s a type of self-analysis.

Intimate portrait on display in Dubai

Is this facet of his work the most powerful explanation of the artist’s continuing longevity?  
Of course, because you have to live your life in ‘reality’ and be alert to all of the signs around you! Dalí was also very interested in art history – he believed that one could better understand the politics, and spiritual and scientific evolution of our world during the past centuries by appreciating this history of art.

The exhibition is an exploration of Dalí’s work but, on a more personal level, is it also a way of connecting with your father?
My father was a free-thinker. Being close to Dalí allowed him to witness Dalí’s artistic quest, and this relationship enlightened his life – and also mine.

The Divine Back of Gala

The Grand Inquisitor Expels the Savior

The Curse Conquered by Salvador Dalí

Salvador Dalí: The Memories runs from 11 February - 22 April at the Conference Hall, Dubai International Financial Centre

Photos: Robert Descharnes and supplied