Dali’s must-see exhibit enthralls visually

Visiting Dali: The Late Work at the Atlanta High Museum is like wandering into the depths of one’s own subconscious mind. For the perplexed, Salvador Dali is the quirky painter with the long, thin moustache from over half a decade ago. Nothing you see in this exhibit is too out there or crazy, yet the juxtaposition of these seemingly unconnected ordinary images leads to something both quirky and sublime. This is the world through Dali’s mind, a place that can be illuminating, thought-provoking and, at times, a little scary.

The showcase is available for viewing until Jan. 2011 and places an emphasis on Dali’s later post-World War II works. The various exhibits are sprinkled with tidbits of information on Dali’s life and works. This really turns the exhibit into a more cohesive journey into Dali’s mind.

The artwork itself is classic surrealism. There is an emphasis in Dali’s late work on mixing the styles of the Classical Renaissance with a modernist, surreal touch. Typified by this is a massive painting in the second room that features the Virgin Mary surrounded by apostles and holding the baby Christ. This perfectly Classical work is subverted by a small surreal touch: baby Christ’s innards are replaced with a loaf of bread. The connection, of course, is obvious, but it takes the painting to reveal what’s embedded within the subconscious mind.

Dali has quite a penchant for religious and Christological works. There’s a particularly powerful work called “Christ of Saint John of the Cross” that shows a crucified Jesus ascendant in the world and looking down upon it. The image itself is very dream-like but reflects the belief of Dali that Christ’s crucifixion was his ultimate triumph and allowed for his deification.

Dali’s late period seems rife with powerful Christian imagery. “Santiago El Grande” features a victorious St. James, the patron saint of Spain, riding atop a white horse and leading the Christian soldiers in battle against Muslim Moors. The heavenly background and sheer magnitude of the painting convey a sense of power and strength. Dali manages to insert figures from his own lifetime into these works as well, featuring himself near the lower center of the painting. Saint James himself is modeled after one of his own friends. Dali’s wife, Gala, can also be found in many of these paintings and also served as a model for his depiction of the Virgin Mary.

Dali’s artistic mastery extends to other mediums as well. This includes everything from portraits and glass sculptures to jewelry making. Dali’s jewels are also founded upon the imagery of dreams and resemble all things unusual, from eyes, to fingers and other odd creatures. He even constructed his own chess set for his friend and contemporary Marcel Duchamp that’s made of sculptures of his own fingers.

A precursor to modern optical illusions, some of the later works rely on tricks of the eye. There are two works near the end of the exhibit which change depending on how far away one is standing. One of them is abstract imagery up close, an Apostle at 15 feet away, and the ear of an angel at around 45 feet. Dali’s portraits also show his connections with the major figures of the day with compositions of major media figures, businessmen and even politicians like Robert Kennedy.

There’s also a great photo exhibit that shows more collaborative works. It features Dali painting and organizing people in all sorts of weird patterns for photos. One darker photo features naked women organized in the shape of a skull. There’s also a film documentary on Dali at work and also at play. One can see all of his quirks and interesting behavior in this documentary.

Some of the works near the end became quite dark, especially the one’s that were painted near the death of himself and his loved ones. The imagery near the end becomes very macabre and at times was even upsetting to some of the patrons. One of these was one that depicted a very abstract train crash with a fading light at the end of the tunnel.

This exhibit is perfect for art lovers and the uninitiated as well. Anyone put off by radical abstract works or boring older ones will be surprised and pleased by Dali’s centrist position. No two works here are the same and the sheer abundance and diversity of colorful, unique art is enough to keep anyone occupied through the entire exhibit.