Selling Out with Salvador Dali

The surrealist's unapologetic love of commerce


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 think he was thrown out of the surrealists in ’39 for backing of fascist Spain.

    1. Back then, tacit support for fascism was a reaction against the as of yet, more visible crimes of communism.

  2. It is, indeed, one of the better museums in the country.

    In 2000, he had a rare show of his sculptures in the Fashion Show Mall in Las Vegas. I was shocked — not at the sublime art but of the fact that it was in Vegas.

  3. I went fishing with Salvador Dali. He used a dotted line. Caught every other fish.

    — from the video for ‘Always On My Mind’ by the Pet Shop Boys

    1. There is a fine line between fishing and standing on the shore looking like an idiot.

      –Steven wright

  4. Dali/Disney Collaboration. Worth watching if you haven’t seen it.

    1. Dali and Disney made a CGI film in 2003….

      Some trick.

  5. Dammit, you guys were right up the street from me filming this.

    Another old story of his was that he sold the Morse’s a painting for a ridiculous amount – $500 or something. But for the frame on it, he charged 18 grand.

    He wasn’t a very heroic person, but his art and his exploration of new techniques was better than Picasso or Matisse. I saw a retrospective of his in CT that was pretty amazing. Lots of private works that used visual tricks or experiments with holograms, etc. At that point in Picasso’s life, he was fine with sitting around, drawing horny minotaurs and banging teenagers.

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