OUMA Exhibition Preview: Salvador Dali

Falling astronauts.  An exhausted giraffe running with a fiery mane.  Lifeless chipmunks settled in…the silhouette of a human face?

These visuals are just some of the thrilling madness that is Salvador Dali.  They are morphing images—those that transform in theme and feeling as the eye moves across the piece.  This is the kind of art that moves from graceful, to gore, to graphic all in the same piece—and leaves the viewer either fully confident that they know exactly what’s going on or completely confused, but determined to resolve the scene within their mind.

At least that was my experience during June of 2010, as I walked the red gallery of the OU Museum of Art with Assistant Art Director Betsy Ayers.  She was putting the finishing touches on the highly-anticipated Dali exhibition, which opened Sunday and runs through September 11.  As my attention shifted from one piece to another, falling for each new visual trick, and subconsciously aware of my losing streak in his famous mind-eye games, I couldn’t help pondering the idea that this was exactly what Dali would have wanted.

The exhibition featured a set of lithographs, or prints, that are authorized copies of Dali’s original works, donated anonymously to OUMA’s permanent collection.  In each of the fourteen lithographs, the surrealist is typified by the reality that in viewing seems so very  “unreal.”  Betsy even told me that to achieve this experience, Dali would actually induce a paranoid-delirium state, which in his words, were to “maintain the systematization of delirious thought within the most remarkable coherence.”  He wanted to make dream-like images.

Betsy Ayers and intern Jordy Pfeifer arrange a Dali lithograph at the OU Museum of Art.

One remarkable feature of the OUMA exhibit is a trilogy of lithographs that were part of a tarot card deck that Dali was commissioned to illustrate.  

A deck of Tarot cards is divided into the Minor Arcana and Major Arcana.  The Minor Arcana is similar to a traditional set of playing cards, with four suites, ten numbers and four face cards.  The works featured at OUMA are part of what is known as  The Major Arcana.  It is comprised of 22 cards with their own titles, such as The Sun, The Priestess, Death, etc. The three lithographs in this exhibit are The Hanged Man, Temperance, and The Tower.  Symbolism is apparent and deep in these pieces, typical of Dali’s detailed imagination and begging for explanation.

And that, really is the point.  It is the meeting of the bizzare and the reasonable, the almost-there but not quite, that is so addictive about Dali’s style and keeps enthusiasts returning and people like me guessing…determined to beat Dali at his own game, and challenging my brain to decipher and make complete sense of the most harmonious chaos I’ve ever seen.

“Eternity of Love,” part of a deck of tarot cards Dali was commissioned to illustrate. The general interpretation is that The Tower represents false beliefs and concepts that are going to be torn down.

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