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The latest exhibition at Barcelona's Picasso Museum places together, for the first time, two iconic artists of radically different reputations – Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí.
'Picasso/Dalí, Dalí/Picasso', which runs from March 20 to June 28, is a painstakingly researched and provocative show that, curator William Jeffett explains, highlights specific points of encounter between the two men to expand our understanding of both. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), a lifelong hero of the left, fundamentally challenged the way we view art and reality with Cubism.
Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), 20 years his junior, painted dream landscapes in hyper-real detail, set in his native Catalonia. His aim was to liberate repressed desires – however nasty they were – and he later stood accused of both celebrity-seeking cynicism and complicity with fascism.
Yet these apparent ideological opposites can be compared as well as contrasted, says Jeffett, who spent a decade gathering artworks and abundant archival material, including exhibition catalogues, articles, etchings, photographs and letters, from museums and private collections. They help us piece together a complex and contradictory relationship that spanned four decades.
The story begins in Paris, with young Dalí's visit to Picasso's studio in the spring of 1926. Picasso was already famous, but their artistic interests were strikingly similar, says Jeffett. 'Both explored a form of neoclassical realism partly inspired by photography, and a form of "poetic Cubism", which incorporates elements of Surrealism.' Yet a split occurred in 1936 with the onset of the Spanish Civil War. Both Picasso and Dalí responded with emotive allegorical works, but their distinct treatments set them aesthetically and politically at odds. Picasso's preparatory drawing for 'Guernica' (1937), radical in style, shows empathy and horror; Dalí's 'The Premonition of War' (1935), however, is ambiguous in its uncomfortable merging of eroticism and violence.
'There was admiration and rivalry on both sides', says Jeffett. Dalí was enraged when Picasso was selected to produce work for the World Exhibition in Paris. And while Picasso initially seemed fond of Dalí, keeping the mountain of correspondence that Dalí bombarded him with over the years and paying for his first trip to the US in 1934, the younger man's pursuit of fame and fortune in the States created a distance between them. Dalí's courting of Spain's Franco dictatorship severed their association completely.
Still, a lifelong emotional connection seemed to persist. One of the most telling of Dalí's works is 'Portrait of Picasso in the Twenty-first Century' (1947): brilliant and grotesque, it is also a remarkably prescient dissection of our modern-day relationship with celebrity.