I have waited my whole life for the latest retrospective blockbuster at Paris’ Pompidou Centre – or at least the whole of my life since the momentous day when I first cast my eyes upon the work of Catalan artistic genius, Salvador Dalí. It was, I believe, his melting clocks, a painting which I first saw when the headmistress of my primary school showed us some projected images of the world’s most famous paintings. It was a defining moment of my life. In that collection was Monet’s garden, Van Gogh’s sunflowers and Dalí’s melting clocks. And ever since, I was hooked – hooked on art, but most of all, on the mysterious, unsettling, iconically surreal world of Salvador Dalí.
When you think of Dalí, you of course think of those clocks, of ants and eggs, crutches and long-legged elephants, Venus de Milo turned into a cabinet of draws, figures fragmenting like an atomic explosion, optical illusions, the lobster on a phone, barren landscapes and long dark shadows. It’s an incredible list of characteristics which Dalí made his own through images which have become so well known across the globe that there can be no doubting Dalí’s self-proclaimed accolade – that he was a genius. His paintings are so brilliantly executed down to the tiniest detail that the mind honestly boggles. The extent of his imagination is almost enough to make the brain implode, and yet when faced with his paintings composed with such faultless artistic skill, you cannot help but roam the canvas with your eyes hungrily, sucking in every exquisite detail, exploring the multi-layered imagery and baulking and the sheer audaciously brilliant output of this creative prodigy.
Sadly, up until now, my love for Dalí has been lived out largely through the fair few catalogues I have of his work. I’ve taken in every detail of the four Dalí’s owned here in London by Tate on countless occasions, and done the same with the fairly comprehensive collection of the Reina Sofia in Madrid. I’ve visited Montmartre’s Espace Dalí on numerous occasions, but found it to be largely lacking in paintings, and I’ve been to a few surrealism-based shows in London in which one or two canvases have featured. But I have often bemoaned the lack of Dalí paintings in Europe and I have longed for an exhibition when many would come together.
The Pompidou have answered my prayers. This Dalí retrospective is nothing short of stunning. It is one of the best if not the best exhibition I have ever been to. The show isn’t a peripheral tribute to Dalí, but a comprehensive exploration of his entire career featuring an incredible 120 paintings all in one place, as well as sketches, sculptures, a recreation of his famous red-lipped sofa Mae West room and other paraphernalia. I was in heaven. The show’s curators appear to have acquired all of the works from Tate, and all those owned by the Reina Sofia, but most importantly of all, the exhibition brings together a huge collection of works which are hiding away over in the Dalí museum in St Petersburg, Florida, whose collection alone comprises some 96 paintings, and, most brilliantly of all, the globally recognised melting clocks themselves, all the way over from New York. Could this show get any better?
The exhibition starts with an egg – a large egg which forms an entrance to the first gallery and whose pounding heartbeat could be heard all the way down the corridor of the Pompidou’s 6th floor. It was like the warm up to a mega-star’s pop-concert, as the audience is whipped up into a frenzy in anticipation of the great star’s arrival onto the concert stage. And appropriately so, for there is no greater star of the artistic world, in my opinion, than Salvidor Dalí, and at the Pompidou, the stage was truly set.