Tuesday, July 15, 2008

This Is Not a Museum Exhibition

This past Friday, I went over to see the Salvador Dali exhibit Painting and Film at the Museum of Modern Art.  It's really incredible, and I highly recommend it.

Right outside the show they were playing a Buster Keaton film, a scene from One Week.  

I just adore Buster Keaton.

I'd seen both L'Age d'or and Un chien Andalou while in film school, so I didn't spend too much time on those.  There were a couple of other incredible things to be seen, however.

I went chronologically backwards, and first saw Dali's video work, Chaos and Creation (1960).  

I'd never seen this one, but it was pretty funny because he was totally making fun of Piet Mondrian.  He has a sort of pig pen with various compartments, which viewed from above looks like a Mondrian painting.  Then there's pigs and mud and a girl covered with food or some kind of goop writhing around in it.  This one was getting those comical kind of matter-of-fact observations from the crowd ("It looks like one of those hamster balls."  "There's soapy water in it.") that indicate they have no idea what the hell they're watching.

Next was Warhol's screen test of him.  It's sort of an unfortunate viewing experience in a crowded gallery, and a shame that they don't appear to be showing that one in their movie theater (which, by the way, is a fantastic place to see films).  I'd seen a bunch of Warhol's films at a festival at Film Forum many years ago, when I worked there.  I had a number of religious experiences during that festival, but Warhol's screen tests were really mind-blowing.  For the first few minutes, you think "okay, the person's just sitting there, doing nothing.  So what?"  But as you sink deeper into the experience of it, you start to notice the most unbelievably subtle things about the person's facial expressions.  The very, very slightest raise of an eyebrow, twitch of the lip, or series of blinks begins to take on the most profound significance.  You realize in the end, you've seen much deeper into this person's soul, their real persona, precisely because they're sitting there doing nothing at all.  I think my favorite of those I saw was the one of Henry Geldzahler, former curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  

He starts playing with his eyebrows halfway through and is just a goofy character.

Then there's Dali's Impressions de la Haute Mongolie from 1975, where he looks every bit the "guru in drag" that Lennon did.  He also appears like he'd have been a hilarious person to be around.

They're also showing his dream sequence for Hitchcock's Spellbound.  

I feel like I have the vaguest recollection of knowing that the sequence was actually by Dali, himself, but it's been a very long time since I'd seen it.  Hitchcock said he was bored with the hazy, out-of-focus way dream sequences were often done, because he felt that dreams were in fact quite sharp and vivid, much like Dali's paintings.  The best thing about this, in my opinion, is they have the actual studio backdrop from the film shoot there, a giant black and white canvas hanging in the gallery.

It was very cool to see The Persistence of Memory in person.  

I can't recall if I've ever seen it, although it's definitely possible.  It's very small, there was a huge crowd of people around it, about eight deep, so there was really no way I was going to be able to interact with that painting.  To make matters worse, there was this couple standing directly in front of it, pretending to know ALL ABOUT what the whole thing means, pointing out all the symbolism and having an oh, so intelligent conversation about it, meanwhile blocking everyone else's view of the piece.

Regardless, there are so many great paintings that for sure I'd never seen, in person or otherwise, that I didn't necessarily need to spend an hour on Persistence.

I think what excited me most, did you know that he had collaborated with Walt Disney?  No, really, it's true!  Dali felt Disney was actually one of the few true Surrealists himself.  A few years after Fantasia, Disney wanted to do another similar film, but perhaps more serious.  So he began working with Dali on a segment for it called Destino in 1940.  

They only completed about 18 seconds of it until the project was abandoned perhaps due to lack of funds.  But then in 2003, a group of Disney animators got together and finished it, based on the original treatment.  It's playing at the show, and it's really quite creepy and beautiful.

Oh, and just to make the whole thing even more Surreal, I bumped into a total blast from my past, John Witherspoon, The Artist Formerly Known as Lahoma Van Zandt.

As a man, though.  Lahoma was the greatest emcee to ever grace the stage of Limelight's Disco2000 (which I told him, a little too enthusiastically), and allegedly his trip from Atlanta to New York with Larry Tee and RuPaul was the basis for To Wong Foo...  I hadn't seen him around in years and years, which is kind of sad because Lahoma was such a hoot.  Maybe she'll do a comeback tour.

©2008, Ryan Witte


salvadordaliexpert said...

Great post. I wish the exhibit was still here in Los Angeles. I enjoyed it as well.

Ryan Witte said...

Thank you. Just as an aside, did the Keaton travel with the show or was that MoMA's idea?