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August 7, 2011

Review: Dalí – Mind of a Genius Exhibition

by alive


Back when I was a secondary school student, there was a special program called the Art Elective Program (AEP). Intended to cultivate artistic talent, it instead left me bored and restless. I got in on the basis of a selection process that tested me on areas I liked, such as drawing, sketching from imagination, etc. I accepted assuming I’d be able to learn more about that.

Instead I found myself a lone island in a sea of geniuses light years ahead of me, doing stuff I really hated such as portrait drawing (since I was rubbish at it), no help for light and shade concepts which were my major weakness (no internet or Youtube in those days!) and then wading through boring, droning lectures on art history, trying to differentiate between Impressionism, Romanticism, Cubism (didn’t know anything about this other than that I hated it), Manet and Monet.


My years weren’t a total loss though. True, I sacrificed technical class, which is where the rest of the ‘normal, less privileged’ boys found themselves, learning technical drawing, using tools, and driving nails and other stuff which would come back and hammer me in the ass years later when I couldn’t drill a hole for nuts.

But something did speak to me. Out of sea of “-isms” which were slowly drowning me with my own tears of boredom and ennui, I was thrown an “ism” as a life raft.




And the boatman was Dalí.


Surrealism and Dalí

To understand Dalí one must first understand surrealism. Here’s my quick and dirty guide.

Surrealism was a philosophy that started in the 1920s. Like many philosophies it was a reaction to something. In this case, the rationalism which was blamed by many for the first World War.  Artists create dreamlike paintings, with distortions, fantastical creations, and other non-definable subjects that don’t exist in reality.

One of the pioneers, Andre Breton, emphasized accessing the unconscious, and since this was around the time when Freud’s theories were gaining fame, surrealism attracted a large number of people from art and psychology into the fold. Inspiration now came from within, not without. Painting from imagination as opposed to reproducing external subjects was seen as true art.

Of the surrealists, Salvador Dalí is recognized as possibly the greatest. He is certainly the most famous. Born in Spain in 1904, he was flamboyant, controversial, idiosyncratic and eccentric. His moustache must surely be the one feature most remembered and immortalized by artists, photographers and caricaturists alike. He was also – to his own enormous delight – rich, earning lots of money while he was alive unlike many others whose work became valued only after their deaths.

There are a lot of fascinating facts about the man’s personal life which don’t belong here but can easily be found online.

Some of Dalí’s persistent motifs include ants, melting clocks , eggs, drawers, lobsters, spindly limbed elephants, snails. I won’t get into their symbolic meaning here; they are easily found on the internet, sometimes in great detailed analyses.


Dalí: Mind of a Genius Exhibition

The exhibition is held at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands and displays over 250 of Dalí’s creations… and what creations! They are just like I remembered reading about and seeing in books and photocopied notes. You’ve probably seen melted clocks and spindly-limbed elephants in art, or sold as trinkets and reproductions. Here these surrealistic sculptures, paintings, collages and even photographs are brought to you LIVE and ORIGINAL!

(Incidentally, this was the first time I’d ever been to Marina Bay Sands, and I must say it was an experience indeed. It reminded me of the first time I went to the Adelphi, and realized that this was the type of place rich people shopped at. MBS is interesting enough to merit another review if I had the time. )

My huge regret was not having a good camera except my lousy mobile which didn’t do anything useful. Hence the stock images which follow.

The idea that you are entering the mind of Dalí himself is denoted by the light curtain of Dalí’s visage you must go through at the start of the exhibition. The journey consists of three major themed areas. These are


1. Femininity and Sensuality

Focussing on the female form and sensuality, but with a surrealistic slant. So you can expect nothing straightforward, and something surprising and often, downright disturbing.

Representative works include:

Woman Aflame. A very nice sculpt of the female form, but punctuated by two of Dalí’s motifs: drawers and set afire. A woman, with hidden sexual energy, like drawers that can be opened only by Freudian psychoanalysis, and flame which symbolizes the erotic urges present in every female. Good to know!



Space Venus: Call me old fashioned, but in my limited mind, I’ve always considered some ‘modern’ or ‘alternative’ art absolute rubbish. This is a rather generous umbrella that includes Cubistic work that seemed to disguise the fact that the artist couldn’t draw a proper figure, to literal crap such as artists who use faeces and invent some fantastical story around what it symbolizes.

Therefore seeing something ‘alternative’ like Space Venus restored my faith that exist alternative artists who have some basic idea of what Euclidean forms look like while running riot with their own creativity.

Space Venus is something which – even without understanding the artist’s symbolism such as the eggs – can be appreciated as art by everyone. In other words, yes, you need a bit of study and background knowledge to get at the deeper meanings, but it is still accessible as art to everyone else.



2. Religion and Mythology

One of the Dalí’s recurring themes reflect his aversion to religion and the Church. You can read about it in your own time J But works that come under this theme include:


The Snail and the Angel – One of the things I really like about Dalí is his ability to create surrealistic images out of objects or figures that reflect true artistic ability. It’s not the nonsense that is ‘modern art’ requiring a secret flowery language to decode a mess of swirls, scribbles and swooshes into the ‘true meaning’, often made to sound more enlightening than the Rosetta Stone.

Here is one sculpture that exemplifies this. Yes, it is a surrealistic and disturbing image. But each of its components could easily be appreciated as a beautiful piece of art, requiring genuine talent.

Adam and Eve – Again, well-formed sculptures with many possibilities for interpretation. You can have a lively argument with your other half about what love means, why the serpent and Eve face the same direction, and just what Adam is considering more important than the love which is tempting him.



3. Dreams and Fantasy

The third major thematic division is Dalí’s fascination with the subconscious. He was well-acquainted with Freud’s writing, including dream analysis. But he didn’t go down the path of keeping everything abstract. He often blended the fantastic with the everyday, the abstract against the backdrop of the familiar. This was one of the things that drew me into his work.

Persistence of Memory – Probably his most famous work, the exhibit also has one in sculpture. This melted clock (especially on a wilting tree) is one of Dalí’s most persistent motifs, and is an interesting distortion of a scientific instrument of cold precision, and what is measures – time – which is in fact fluid, flexible,  and subjective.  As a contemporary of Albert Einstein, he was probably familiar with his Theory of Relativity, and aptly illustrates one of its ideas here.


Honourable Mention

Mae West sofa – For those of you who have seen this iconic beauty/ monstrosity countless times, this is the mind from which the concept was hatched.

The Exhibition will run from 14 May 2011 to 30 October 2011.

Venue: ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands

Operating Hours: 10.00am – 10.00pm

Admission Charges:
Adult $30.00
Seniors (65+): $27.00
Children: $17


I was fortunate enough to go with a friend who had a special discount. But I would definitely pay full price. In fact, I’m going again. Since I wasn’t alone, I didn’t stay to read every single article and information piece like I would have.

Going alone, I will have that time, so I’ve got till the 30th to visit again.


With a better camera.


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