The ambition of the exhibition “Dalí. A History of Painting” exhibition is to show a lesser known side of the artist. Beyond the public figure and his media extravagances, there is a virtuoso painter, passionate about the history of art and the pictorial tradition of the great masters of the Renaissance. The sincerity of his intellectual and artistic approach is essential for understanding his work and the exhibition seeks to reflect this aspect.
Places tell a story. This is the impression that William Chatelain, scenographer at the Grimaldi Forum Monaco felt during his visit to the artist’s house-studio in Portlligat. Originally a modest fisherman’s shack purchased by the artist in 1930, it evolved over the years in line with his architectural desires and wishes, ending up in 1972 as an astonishing residence, reflecting the Dalí-Gala couple themselves.
This permanent studio in which the artist constantly created has truly guided the path of “Dalí. A History of Painting”. In the thinking about the setting for the exhibition, it will be located at its heart as a fundamental and essential nucleus, surrounded by a panoramic photograph illustrating the bay, the rocks, the horizon between sky and sea, the light, all of which shaped and inspired the painter so much.
Like the refuge used for his formal research, the workshop featuring black & white photographs will take up position among the masterpieces distributed room by room according to the different stages of his creation: from his first landscapes influenced by the European avant-gardes such as Impressionism, Cubism, Abstraction and Surrealism, of course, of which he was one of the emblematic figures to a later production that evolved into a personal style, when his “neo-mystical” period led to the creation of an oeuvre nourished by scientific experiments, references to psychoanalysis and double images. Before this, there is a section devoted to Pop Art, illustrated by films, documents and photographs to recount his period of exile in the United States in the 1940s, where Dalí proved very popular.
A room in the exhibition will also be dedicated to Dalí’s stay at Coco Chanel's villa La Pausa in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, where, during the Spanish Civil War and as the Second World War loomed, he painted the gloomy Imperial Violets (1938). On top of a series of complementary loans, some photographic prints and a booklet illustrated by Dalí for the Ballet de Monte-Carlo in 1941-1942 will bear witness to the artist’s repeated presence in Monaco.
The itinerary ends with a room devoted to 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship, a prelude to the section dedicated to the great masters who influenced each stage of Dalí’s development: Vermeer, Raphael, Velásquez, Leonardo da Vinci and Picasso, whose work he examined in order to affirm his own place in the great history of art in turn. Like the turned and open pages of a book, a few selected works and some documents will show to what extent Dalí’s own dedication to these great artists made sense for the genesis of his own work.
The essential nature of the layout is a reference to the whitewashed walls of Portlligat and the “simplicity” of the location. Some architectural details animate the walls as tributes to this unique place. Openings looking out on an “exterior”, these perspective views suggest the direction of the visit and direct the visitors’ eyes.
Another feature that guided the thinking behind the layout is the deep link uniting the work and the life of Dalí. It seemed essential to provide visitors, throughout the chronological journey of his work, with the historical and biographical context of each stage of creation in order better to perceive influences, innovations and ruptures and thus present the works themselves in a more solemn and contemplative manner.
Each “didactic” space will be treated in blue, yellow, violet, green, orange like vibrations of colour that the artist liked to integrate into his palette. A selection of quotes, photographic documents and video clips will also punctuate the itinerary.
The visit to the exhibition will also end with the screening of “Dreams of Dalí”, a virtual reality installation created by The Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, after the painting called Archaeological Reminiscence of Millet’s Angelust (c.1934). This work is not on display but is a significant painting of his surrealist period.
In order to understand the meticulousness of Dalí's work and the richness of his landscapes, we have used a technological device exploiting ultra-high definition images: the gigapixel set up in the exhibition thanks to the expertise of the Buzzing Light company and photographer Gilles Alonso.
Visitors will have the opportunity to explore two Dalí works digitally and in very high definition: The Spectre of Sex-Appeal (c.1934), a canvas measuring only 18 x 14 cm and “The Memory of the Woman-child” (1929), which is a striking summary of Dalinian iconography.
Using a tactile navigation interface, the visitor can explore the works in their smallest details, with the images revealing the play of materials, the brush strokes, cracks and other details that are difficult to observe with the naked eye. As the images are explored, explanatory notes are embedded to reveal some of the secrets of the works.
Beyond the aesthetic wonder this provides, this entertaining experience does not lose sight of its scientific purpose and invites visitors to return to admire the original works with a new eye.