Who was Gala? The woman whose passport read Elena Ivanovna Diakonova (Kazan, 1894 – Portlligat, 1982)? One of the most extraordinary muses to be born at the food of Mount Olympus? The wife of poet Paul Éluard and later of the painter Salvador Dalí? The curator of the exhibition, Estrella de Diego, has a very clear idea: Gala is the 'coauthor of so many works by the painter that from the early 1930s he started signing their names together, Gala-Salvador Dalí'. And she ventures, 'To what extent can it not be said that Gala is part of this whole "artist as a work of art"?'
Yours truly, who's spent two decades studing Dalí's oeuvre, begs to differ. Maybe the photographer Brassaï got it write, when he defined Gala as 'lover, inspiration, teacher, muse and businesswoman all at once' and responsible for the success of the 'Dalí phenomenon'. I would add to that that she also served as a mother figure for the artist. More than just a relationship, this was a diabolically complex ecosystem where shared interests made space for attraction.
The exhibition details the symbiosis of this woman who was so physically fragile yet had such an incredibly strong character – some would say she was cruel even – with a universally recognised genius who was so vulnerable as to be useless when it came to the basics of everyday life. The show talks to us, via manuscripts, photos, clothes, drawings, films, etc., about the search for a space of her own for Gala (the castle in Púbol), about her Russian identity, her active role within the surrealist movement. But what really makes an impression is the enormous display of Dalí oil paintings with Gala as a subject. Some thirty masterpieces painted between 1931 and 1979, collections from Madrid and Figueres, but also from museums around the world. This is the MNAC's most ambitious exhibition in years.