Los Angeles

Salvador Dalí

Municipal Art Galleries

Admirers of this curiously contro­versial figure often defend him on the basis of his draftsmanship. If this were indeed his principal contribution he is outstripped by dozens of unknown drudges sweating in schools and studi­os. What is truly curious about Dalí is his ability to appeal to a certain im­agination. He, along with Modigliani and Lautrec, seems to be the favorite artist of the half-lettered imaginative adolescent. It is a consciousness at once given to dream and at the same time deeply materialistic––an imagina­tion that is less creative than recrea­tive. It is altogether possible that Dalí represents a necessary step in the de­velopment of our high school students.

The fifty-odd works at Barnsdall span a thirty-year period in which he reflects an ever increasing complexity of arti­fice. We cannot imagine what inspired his recent attempt to renovate and modernize himself. There is a recent modified-dribble painting and an at­tempt at assemblage (the cover for the Apocalypse) that expose his most char­acteristic weakness, a total inability to see a surface in the abstract. He has always regarded his space as a proscen­ium stage with the result that things remain proportionally commonplace in spite of his attempt to make them look odd. This habit reflects in the additive effect of his abstract works.

Visitors familiar with Dalí in repro­duction will find the fact of his paint unpleasantly spermy. Technically his watercolors are fresher. Finally, how­ever, criticism relative to his technical procedures reflects a bias for a particu­lar pictorial mode. This is not fair to Dalí as every gimmick he uses, every technical fault he possesses has been turned to good account by another man. Any criticism must begin at a human level if it is to be meaningful and really cannot be objective. Dalí is an enter­tainer masking as an inventor and a philosopher. He attempts to affect us emotionally without himself being in­volved. Conscious emotional manipula­tion stinks.

The exhibition is in no sense an im­portant one of Dalí’s work, though the galleries remain mobbed. Major works can be counted on one hand, and not a single major Dalí collection has been tapped. Most astonishing, there is some evidence that Dalí had indicated his willingness to cooperate in a truly important retrospective had the galler­ies been willing to wait a year or so. It is hard to believe that trustees, anx­ious for a show with massive attend­ance, jettisoned this possibility in favor of this year’s turnstile figures.

––William Wilson