In the last months Melbourne has become gripped with Dali-mania. Everyone has been talking about it. It doesn’t take much to whip the public into a frenzy about Dali because he is a very popular artist around the world. Posters of his paintings are popular decorations as are the countless coffee-table books about him. Stories about his life form a contemporary hagiography. In Singapore in the forecourt of a grand art deco style apartment I had to laugh to see a statue of Dali was included, amongst statues of the great and the good, along side Mozart and Rembrandt.
The Dali exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria has been a blockbuster. The publicity for the exhibition has been everywhere: banners, advertising on trams, magazines, even chalk stencil adverts on railway platforms. In its final weeks it has been going 24 hours a day. Crowds are queuing for the exhibition into the great hall of the gallery into the night. Musicians in the great hall entertain the long queue for the exhibition.
Inside the exhibition the crowds shuffle around trying to see all the exhibits – doing the Dali shuffle. Is the exhibition worth the price, the wait and the crowded gallery? Sarah Winter of BMA magazine gushes about the exhibition and describes Dali as “the father of Surrealism” (which he certainly was not). Only the art critic Robert Nelson avoids the hype and writes a critical and balanced review.
I went with my wife and friends and it took us about two hours to shuffle through the exhibition. There are some good paintings and drawings but there is also a lot of padding typical of blockbuster exhibitions such as publicity photographs and the Alice Cooper connection. However, all of this “padding” does more completely tell Dali’s story than the paintings and drawings alone, as it is this padding that makes Dali a superstar for the contemporary audience. (It is far better than the dreadful touring commercial exhibition of Dali’s awful late prints and sculptures that was in Melbourne in 2003.)
The curators of the NGV exhibition are slightly defensive about Dali’s own penchant for publicity; noting beside a photograph of Dali and Warhol that Dali was criticized for his publicity seeking whereas Warhol wasn’t. (This is forgetting that Warhol’s art was about popularity and publicity and that Dali’s art isn’t.)
Will this immensely popular exhibition have any cultural effect in Melbourne? Will the Dali-mania have any lasting effect or will it just fade away after the exhibition closes? What will the effect be to Melbourne’s own few surreal and fantastic art and artists? Or is it just more infotainment, another dead artist whose relics the crowds make pilgrimages to see?
Meanwhile, aerosol artists spray a face of Dali in the Collingwood Underground during the Melbourne Stencil Festival. And in Sydney there is a play running titled: “References to Dali Make Me Hot”.