Art

Salvador Dali's Unapologetic Love of Commerce

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"Selling Out with Salvador Dali," produced by Paul Feine. Approximately 4:30 minutes.

Original release date was July 16, 2014. The original writeup is below.

Salvador Dali attained international acclaim as a young artist in the 1930s. In 1933, curator Dawn Ames described Dali as "surrealism's most exotic and prominent figure." Surrealist poet Andre Breton wrote that Dali's name was "synonymous with revelation in the resplendent sense of the word." In 1936, Dali made the cover of Time magazine.

Dali didn't simply sit back and enjoy the acclaim. He exploited it. Dali was a shameless self-promoter and admitted to having a "pure, vertical, mystical, gothic love of cash." Ultimately, it was Dali's unapologetic drive for fame and fortune that proved to be too surreal for the Surrealists. Andre Breton, whose opinion of Dali soured over time, created an anagram of Dali's name: Avida Dollars ("greedy for money"). Breton and the other Surrealists, many of whom were closely allied with the French Communist Party, expelled Dali from their group in 1939. Dali responded, "I myself am surrealism."

Over the next several decades, Dali became increasingly flamboyant and controversial. He arrived at a lecture in Paris in a Rolls Royce filled with cauliflower. He did commercials for Alka-Seltzer and chocolate bars. He was thrilled when Sears sold his prints to the masses. He signed sheets of blank lithograph paper and sold them for $10 a sheet. As Dali became increasingly popular with the masses, however, his reputation among art critics suffered.

"There was an era when being a successful artist made you suspect, made your art suspect," says Hank Hine, executive director of The Dali Museum. "When I was going through school, we were not shown Dali. He was not part of the canon. Yes, we would buy posters, we could find his images, but largely he was not part of the serious discussion of values, which is what constitutes serious art. I believe that has changed." Others in the art world agree. The Philadelphia Museum of Art's Michael R. Taylor, for example, believes that "Dali should be ranked with Picasso and Matisse as one of the three greatest painters of the 20th century."

Reason TV recently visited The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, to learn more about how Dali the artist embraced the marketplace for art.

Approximately 4:20 minutes. Produced by Paul Feine. Additional camera by Zach Weissmueller. Music by Peter Walker.

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  1. I’d heard he was a bit of a Francissimo Facist. Es verdad? Or just a bit of historical revisionism?

    1. Franco was a fascist?

    2. I hadn’t heard that, but remember the historical context. In the Spanish Civil War, the pro-Stalin Communists were burning churches and threatening to turn Spain into a little USSR. (Yes, there were anarchists and non-communist socialists, but they were eventually dominated by the Communists.) The fascists, despite aid from Hitler and the fact that they were fighting against a sort-of elected government, were a bit more on the side of tradition. So a Spaniard being a bit pro-Franco doesn’t mean they were full-fledged Nazi.

      I was at that museum last year, and yes, Dali was a great painter. One painting he did at age 15 (IIRC) was particularly astonishing. The average art school grad would love to have done it.

      1. Right, the Spanish Civil War is a great big mess from a propaganda POV because of the nature of the two sides. The Republicans had everything from Stalinists to social democrats, and the Nationalists had everything from fascists to constitutional monarchists.

        Franco was not the worst of evils, not by a long shot. He was a traditionalist and authoritarian, but arranged for a constitutional monarchy following his death. Things would have been much worse if the other side had won.

  2. This is how you can get the free DVD, which includes the 1950 Mike Wallace interview. They know most of us won’t buy $1k prints, but they sell enough to cover promotional costs.

  3. “….he was not part of the serious discussion of values, which is what constitutes serious art.”

    Code for being part of the hive-mind.

  4. If you’ve ever seen ‘persistence of memory’, what is so remarkable about it is that *its surprisingly small*

    I think i saw it at the Tate in london in 1992. i cant remember exactly. (*no = they say its been @ the MoMa for the last 70 years) But that was my main reaction. it was the size of a mouse-pad.

    I just googled it – its says, ” 0′ 9″ x 1′ 1″ (24 cm x 33 cm)”

    So I guess that’s an inch or so bigger than standard loose-leaf paper? (8×11)

    I think much of his stuff was @ that scale. There were a few larger things, but not so many.

    1. No, he did a number of paintings whose size could only be called “monumental.” “The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus” is 410 cm ? 284 cm. I don’t think a lot of his early work was huge, though.

  5. Can we just say “selling out” = “buying in” already?
    Talk about “microaggresion”

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