Salvador Dali is celebrated for his ability to coalesce mechanical mastery with a warped, expressive sensibility. Many of his earlier surrealist paintings sought to confuse by tactically toying with anticipated forms through distorted, acute realism. The result for viewers is often goosebumps.
This is not the Dali on display in the collection of prints currently exhibited at the Brown-RISD Hillel Gallery titled "Aliyah: The Rebirth of Israel." Commissioned in 1967 and then auctioned in 1968 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Israel's formation, this 25-piece mixed-media collection depicts the Jewish people's return to their historic homeland. The exhibit features the complete set of colored lithographic reproductions signed by Dali — or, as he referred to himself, "the Divine Dali."
David Blumenthal, current owner of the collection and a former Brown professor specializing in Jewish mysticism, received the prints from his wife, Ursula. The gift was a commemoration of their first date, when they visited a Dali exhibit in New York City, he said at last night's opening reception.
While Dali raged against organized religion early in his career, this collection reflects a more developed approach to the subject, said Elliott King, an assistant professor of modern and contemporary art history at Rhodes College and noted Dali expert. King wore a dapper purplish suit to the reception and was slyly festooned with a melted clock watch — a nod to Dali's most famous work, 1931's "The Persistence of Memory."
"While (the collection) may appear like it was done very quickly in comparison to his earlier works that obscured realism, … it is distinguished in my mind because of the detail of the work," King said.
The prints, which will be on display at Hillel through Oct. 31, exist in a precarious place in Dali's artistic landscape, King said. The Spanish Catholic artist is commonly purported to have been anti-Semitic, but King suggested this notion is not well-founded.
"He encouraged Surrealists to look into the Hitler phenomenon and discuss it," he said.
One piece, "Plate 12," appears alongside a text from Deuteronomy 30:20 that reads, "For it is thy life and the length of thy days." The plate depicts a scribe copying the story of Jacob's ladder from Genesis.
"Dali associated Jacob's ladder with many things — the double-helix of DNA, part of what he liked to call ‘the staircase of life,'" King said. This print is so precise that, while Dali did not speak a word of Hebrew, the representation of the calligraphy can be read by anyone who does.
The exhibit contains many examples of Dali's unrivaled aesthetic judgment and displays an interesting departure from the style commonly associated with the eccentric artist.