Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Dali's Christ of Saint John of the Cross Is on the Move

Low res reproduction used with permission.
In every field of endeavor there are dozens or even hundreds of names that are familiar to those who follow that sport or discipline, but only a handful whose names are actually commonly recognized by all. For example, in boxing, Muhammed Ali. Maybe Joe Louis. In baseball Joe Dimaggio became a national symbol of something bigger than baseball. In soccer, how many household names are there? Yet most people, when the hear the name Pele would associate it soccer.

In architecture there's Frank Lloyd Wright, but how many others are household names? (Howard Roark doesn't count.)

So it is that though there are thousands of 20th century artists written up in the art magazines, you can probably count on one hand the majors known by all: Picasso, Warhol, Duchamp and Dali.* Even Duchamp may be questionable, despite the fact that some art historians cite him as the most significant of these big four for having pulled the thread that unravelled modern art, resulting in art's post-modern demise. (Basquiat my now be more memorable today than even Duchamp only because a Hollywood film highlighted him, a film that featured another pop culture emblem, David Bowie.)

All this to say that if you're in London in October, there will be a major show featuring two of these art luminaries, Marcel Duchamp and Salvador Dali. Today's Art Daily features a story about moving Dali's Christ of Saint John of the Cross from it's home in Glasgow to London for this major show. If you click on the link it will give you a sense of the scale of this painting.

Note the dramatic angle of the cross and the figure suspended there. It hovers as if parallel to the earth, and yet the vertical post points to this body of water, which you might imagine to be the Sea og Galilee, though in point of fact it is the bay of Port Lligat where Dali lived at the time.

When Dali painted this piece in 1951-52 he said the image came to him "in a 'cosmic dream' in which I saw this image in colour and which in my dream represented the 'nucleus of the atom.' This nucleus later took on a metaphysical sense; I considered it 'the very unity of the universe,' the Christ!"" **

If you draw lines from the hands to the feet it forms a triangle, which represents the Trinity. The head forms a circle in the middle of the triangle, representing the unity of all things.

What I find interesting is how the artist was not taken seriously by many art critics when he painted this. They labeled it "kitsch", which when I was an art school student in Ohio was pretty much the ultimate insult, comparing it to cheap paintings of Elvis on velour that you might find in tourist shops. Because it wasn't "far out" like much of his other work one critic said it was a stunt.

For a good read on the role of critics, check out this story in the Guardian on who decides what constitutes art?

One of the truly great painters of the past century, it's a privilege to have the Dali Museum located in the U.S. within a stone's throw of another mecca of contemporary life, Disney World. St. Petersburg is adjacent to Tampa, and a worthwhile destination there is the Dali Museum. You will not see Christ of Saint John of the Cross there, but you will see plenty to blow your mind, as the saying goes.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Get into it.

*It's interesting how one of the signs of a person's pop worth is that we call them by a single name, eg. Dylan
** I, too, had an image to me in a dream which I sketched afterward and called The God House. Writing about this here has served to prod me to consider following through on that painting some day.

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