A blockbuster beginning to the spring museum season in Rome, the recently opened Dalí exhibition at the Vittoriano takes the novel, if not completely convincing, approach of presenting Italy as a shaping force in his work. It is a chaotic, vibrant, information-heavy exhibition that above all seeks to establish strong links between Dalí’s personal life and his art, pushing the idea of his life as art and as performance.
The opening to the exhibition is short, succinct, and presents an always engaging view of Dalí’s Italian influences: great artists of the Renaissance such as Raphael and Michelangelo to whom Dalí modestly considered himself superior. This section is arguably where the curators’ argument of Italy’s influence over Dalí is at its strongest: examining the Italian connection in terms of his artistic influences. This moves nicely into more contemporary influences on Dalí such as Picasso and De Chirico in a neat, largely chronological overview of the artist in his formation.
This successful section leads to a large open space replete with large, high quality art works. Despite the many possibilities the large space affords, here the exhibition loses focus, and these very works feel somewhat thrown together with not enough thought to continuity of form, content or even chronology. The strongest selection of Dalí works in this space is from the 1930s: when Dalí was arguably at his best. These pieces, such as Soft Self Portrait with Grilled Bacon (1941) however, are scattered around the room and sit uneasily alongside very different works from different periods and we find their impact somewhat diluted.
Moving up a floor to the final section of the exhibition, we see some excellent and divergent Dalí works, such as Mae West Lip Sofa (1937) and a lovely collection of studies for the illustration of Don Quixote (1946) that reveal Dalí as an artist that had manifold interests. Some informative personal biographical details, whilst often overly long, introduce well the theme of Dalí’s life as art and of his relentless pursuit of ‘iconic’ and idiosyncratic status. The curatorial drive to show Italy’s influence on Dalí is far less successful up here: the best justification offered is a few highly pedestrian photographs of Dalí snapped in various Italian landscapes, which in my view provide scant evidence of Italy as meaningful artistic influence. The best link between Dalí and Italy – and specifically Rome – which is not made enough of, is his exquisite preparatory sketch for the elephant obelisk, that has clear inspiration in Bernini’s Pulcino della Minerva, and would have teased out the link much more eloquently and subtly.
Despite the occasional pitfall, this is a highly ambitious exhibition that largely succeeds in its presentation of Dalí as innovator and eccentric, even if the link between Dalí and Italy doesn’t always convince. Whilst we don’t see many of Dalí’s best known works, the exhibition does well to explore new angles in Dalí scholarship and presents some rarely seen works that highlight Dali as a genius in perhaps more ways than we may have previously considered.
What: Dalí. Un artista. Un genio – A Salvador Dalí Exhibit
Where: Complesso del Vittoriano, Via di San Pietro in Carcere (just off Piazza Venezia)
When: Through July 1. Open Monday-Thursday, 9:30am-7:30pm, Friday & Saturday until 11:30pm, and Sunday’s until 8:30pm
How much: 12.50