Journey into the Dali Labyrinth: visit to the Figueres Theater Museum

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Salvador Dalì is an artist difficult to label; and this is perhaps his most peculiar characteristic, this is the legacy he wanted to give to posterity.

Entering his theater museum in Figueres, I begin the journey into the labyrinth that he himself had defined “an absolutely theatrical museum”, “the largest surrealist object in the world”. I try to understand, but I have the feeling that I am always missing something. I am quite sure that this was the artist’s intent: to tell us about his thought, his world, his own way of seeing life, but – as it is typical of surrealism – through a language made up of symbols, games, names of the works and their arrangement in the museum. Despite being a difficult type to label, over the years, I have understood one thing about Dalì: he was a blatant type, who did things big and deep, not one who backed down. After this visit, however, I began to glimpse, behind his installations and his paintings, all the simplicity that is in the meaning of life and I believe that Dalì was so certain that it is as complex as it is simple, as much material as immaterial, in short, dual.

What better place for this dramatic character than the ancient theater of Figueres, to enclose in one place all his metamorphosis and his career as an artist and as a man?

The Dalí Theater-Museum is in the painter’s hometown and was designed and created by Salvador Dalí himself between 1961 and 28 September 1974, the day of the inauguration, on the ruins of what was the ancient municipal theater of the city, destroyed in a fire in 1939.

Inside the museum, we find several spaces that immerse us in a narrative that is not entirely temporal, but which nevertheless follows a thread: the growth and consciousness of the artist who develops, reworking the themes of life, art, and love. We can immediately realize that Dalì was a great experimenter and that he intended art as a 360 ° look, applicable to all means of expression and to all fields of life.

In the first room, beyond the sumptuous courtyard with a Bentley and a dripping boat on top, there are paintings in which we notice the influences of many artistic currents and painters during his youth: Cubism, impressionism, Optical art, Matisse, Raffaello Sanzio, De Chirico, Mirò, Picasso; and then, passing through the exhibition spaces, we find sculptures, scenographic and theatrical elements, animated puppets, art with recycled objects, assemblages, installations, a collection of jewels.

What is surprising is the incredible contemporaneity of his works and the many “elements of the future”, that is all those elements that have influenced later artists such as Pistoletto, contemporary installations, Punk art, and many others.

Walking through this museum labyrinth is like taking quantum time travel, where past and future happen at the same time, overlap and time hardly exists. I believe that  Dalì knew it, he knew that by experimenting to the full, giving life to all imaginable creative possibilities, he would have left a legacy so vast in terms of content, as to address many of the contemporary currents and still be relevant today.

This feeling of timelessness is found in many of his works. Apart from all the metaphysical and suspended landscapes, also the repetition of the symbolism of the atom, which breaks down, which fluctuates, which creates molecules and DNA, tells us how much life is made up of such a simple primary formula (and also the egg is a typical symbol) to set complex compound mechanisms in motion. After all, time is an invention and immortality is nothing other than the lack of time and space, the suspension in universal infinity. This is what Dalì was aiming for, this is what he arrived at with his museum theater. His work “Dix recettes d’immortalité”, this golden suitcase with key and telephone, almost looks like a time machine, with the DNA molecule inside, which rests on two geometric figures as if to symbolize the universe, creation: a treasure chest of life.

The impact of this work, with its splendor and eccentricity, is even greater above all due to its position inside the museum, that is, immediately after the Sala Palazzo del Vento, where the majestic painting on the ceiling is located. Here Gala and Dalì are giants, seen from below, surround the earth and dominate us, almost a divine representation of the love that supports the world, a metaphysical tale, which makes us understand how much art can be a powerful engine to transform what is material in something spiritual and vice versa, an object that touches the soul and makes the spirit vibrate, a journey that starts here but reaches beyond this world.

The link between these two works is striking and the journey becomes truly metaphysical: a ceiling full of love and religiosity that makes us touch the sky, a safe with the formula of life. Between them, we pass in front of the painting of Gala broken down into floating atoms in motion. The immensity that breaks up, the immensity made up of small parts, the immensity is a small treasure.

Love for Gala is one of the pivots around which Dalinian art revolves, this delicate and strong muse, repeatedly present in her works, studied over the passage of time, broken down into atoms, shot from behind, represented in a blow-up affixed in the former stage of the theater museum. I have heard many stories over the years about the relationship between Gala and Dalì but really the only truth that emerges from his museum theater is a deep love and devotion to this woman; a love so universal as to welcome and leave free expression between the parties, a path of life, a fire that produces energy and perhaps charms that fragile man hidden behind the eccentric character, and in which, who knows, all the legends could be the truth.

Coming out of this enchanted world, I wonder if we were still thinking in terms of Surrealism or if Dalì had gone beyond this artistic current and had gone far beyond any meaning and definition. He himself declared “Surrealism is me” because he had made a surrealist work of his life. I believe that with this statement he wanted to explain the amount of impulsive and impromptu gestures that made him feel above reality, made him feel he could pass time and fill life with special effects, while many labeled him as bizarre and they were bothered by it.

His political ambiguity, his gestures of servility to Franco or his paintings dedicated to Hitler, his pomp, made him the target of much talk, but I believe that all this was his way of attacking in turn and demonstrating his total distance from reality and society. His world was another, far from what is imposed, from the label of “good” and “evil”, his world is surreal, infinite possibility and play, the continuous challenge of the possible and of the permission. We could also think that in other ways the fragility of Dalì always made him land in safe havens, so tied to luxury and well-being, to do and say anything to save himself. In his world, however, the truth is not unique: the duality is surrealist.

Speaking of the Dali phenomenon with other people, the question I often ask myself and others is: Can art be divided from the artist? The work separated from the person who created it?

Many believe that it is so, indeed, that it is necessary to look at art without looking at the artist since art should overcome time and speak to us intimately because we are the filter that observes it.

Work should be regardless of its creator, not judged in the way in which a person is judged because beauty expresses itself. I am convinced of it.

Finally, however, I believe that in the Dali case the opposite is true, that he was looking for this: to bind art to his person so as to reach the place of immortality. He wanted his name to come before his works, that his history and identity make noise as much as his paintings call for silence, reflection, and meticulous observation.

Immortality for him is not being able to be remembered through his works, but being present and part of everything despite time and space; and so we continue to remember him in the works of today’s artists; and so we remember him in the style of a mustache and in all the symbols he has scattered along his path.

Note: All images of Dalì’s works belong to the Gala-Salvador Dalì Foundation whose rights are reserved, therefore Dalì’s works cannot appear on our platform. Despite this, we continue to believe in the free enjoyment of culture and to support all those artists who allow us to love and get closer to art.

Author Details
Set builder, decorator and graphic designer. She loves looking at art and getting emotional.
Paola D'Andrea
Set builder, decorator and graphic designer. She loves looking at art and getting emotional.
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