Depraved, multitalented, anarchist, paranoid, despot, and critical: these were some of the many ways the media chose to pin on Salvador Dalí, the man who quit reality to create an augmented version. He who was unafraid of portraying explicit sexuality in his work, the one who proposed a theoretical method for showing perspective in painting with Freudian undertones. Surrealist, salesman, attention-grabbing, magnificent: this man dared to make a brand of himself.
It wasn’t just his overwhelming personality, but also his fresh new ideas, that made him incredibly popular, as well as earn him a place amidst the elite circle of surreal avant-garde artists.
Scandals about other men’s wives, sporadic encounters with male poets, gossiped visits to the homes of the richest patrons of the time, as well as a blatant marketing strategy, led to his work becoming a bizarre mixture between his public and private life. The social environment in which Dalí existed was very different from that of the intellectuals who had created Surrealism. The original surrealists were a movement opposed to obvious and immediate reality, based on a political response to the socio-economic decay in the years following the First World War.
Most of these Dadaists, Surrealist, and several other variants were radical left-wing idealists. They did not want to belong to the established order imposed by the powers that be. They rebelled against the apathy and indifference from the rest of the continent. Dalí never adhered himself to that aspect of the movement. He believed Surrealism could be devoid of politics, time, and context.
Following his own particular call to action, he moved to New York after living several years of success in Europe. He was attempting to expand his creative horizons beyond the canvas. Dalí started to experiment with sculpture, furniture-making, jewelry, and any other item he could exhibit on the main avenues of the city. Mae West and Tiffany were the galleries that showed and sold his art. The artist started to expand his focus to a global scale. It’s no surprise then that one of the main figures of Surrealist poetry was bold enough to say to his face what others had been thinking for years.
“Ávida Dollars” was the anagram André Breton used as a derogatory term to criticize the artist. Breton’s allegations enraged Dalí’s most devoted followers, yet were cheered on by those who were holding on to the ideals of original Surrealism. It was during that time that Dalí underwent a form of Surrealist trial. He was kicked out of intellectual circles of poets, creators, and artists related to the movement. Yet his vision encompassed a field broader than the mere bohemian Europe. His public response to any of these confrontations where to say, “I am Surrealism.”
Dalí translated the radical views André Breton expressed in the First Manifesto of Surrealism in a way that shocked and challenged the art scene. While it’s true that his public persona attempted to always bring attention to himself, bring him closer to wealthy patrons, and went against bohemian ideals, his contributions to semiotics, artistic craft, and structure were still groundbreaking additions to modern art.
There are pieces of Dalí in Pop Art and contemporary culture. He was able to understand his audience’s needs and desires, and then mocked them in several creative forms, most for profit. The idealistic aspirations of Surrealism fundamentalists should not turn us away from the genius behind the sane gaze of insanity.
Is Dalí overrated?
Some depraved and sadistic secrets of the master of Surrealism.
Translated by María Suárez