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The Philadelphia Museum of Art is privileged to be the only American venue to host the major centennial retrospective exhibition devoted to Salvador Dalí (1904-1989). This exhibition, timed to coincide with the celebration of the 2004 centenary of the artist’s birth, considers all aspects of the artist’s long and controversial career. On view is a vast array of Dalí’s highly influential Surrealist paintings, as well as his early Cubist-inspired works and later experiments with optical illusions and perspective, as in Still Life - Fast Moving of 1956. This thorough reevaluation of Dalí’s remarkable contribution to modern and contemporary art is augmented by examples of his work in other fields, including theater design, filmmaking, and literature. Over 200 works of art are on view, many of which are being shown in the United States for the first time.
Dalí remains one of the best-known artists of the modern era, due to his flamboyant personality and instantly recognizable painting style. His Surrealist paintings are rendered in a meticulous technique that imparts a dream-like clarity to his barren landscapes, which are often filled with strange objects, such as the crutch holding up the old woman that graces one of his best-known works, The Weaning of Furniture - Nutrition of 1934. It was paintings such as this one that secured his fame, yet his importance as a major figure in twentieth-century art has at times been undermined by what critics have perceived as his pandering and knack for self-promotion. In recent years, however, a number of exhibitions and scholarly studies have seriously begun to reexamine the breadth, density, and intelligence of his work. The curatorial team for this project, led by the preeminent Dalí scholar, Dawn Ades, proposes to build upon these insights to create a thorough and challenging account of Dalí’s artistic production in all phases of his career.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art provides a particularly appropriate setting for this landmark exhibition. The Museum owns two major Dalí paintings, Agnostic Symbol, of 1932, and Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War), of 1936. Soft Construction with Boiled Beans has long been considered to be among the most important paintings that Dalí ever completed. With painstaking attention to detail, this image allegorizes the gruesome horrors anticipated in the approaching Spanish Civil War. Depicting a bizarrely contorted figure with ecstatic grimace and petrifying fingers and toes, the image not only exemplifies the artist’s deep concern for the political situation of his native land, but also the disconcerting beauty of his Surrealist art.
The Salvador Dalí retrospective will appeal to a wide audience, ranging from those familiar with his work to a general public for whom Dalí's name resonates with hallucinating vision, intense creativity, and consummate showmanship.
The extension of the exhibition through May 30 has been made possible by a grant from the Economic and Community Development Fund of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.