“New skin, new land”,Dalí’s fascination for Italy, and the incredible landscape of Matera as the setting for the exhibition ‘The Persistence of Opposites’.

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  • “New skin, new land”,Dalí’s fascination for Italy, and the incredible landscape of Matera as the setting for the exhibition ‘The Persistence of Opposites’.
Thursday, 2018, December 6

The first of December saw the inauguration of the exhibition dedicated to Dalí entitled, ‘The Persistence of Opposites’ in Italy, at the ancient Cave Complex comprising of the Church of the Madonna delle Virtù (Our Lady of Virtues) and San Nicola dei Greci (St. Nicholas of the Greeks) in Matera.

For the first time in Matera, Dalí Universe exhibiting its art collection, a selection of over 150 Dalí artworks comprising of sculpture, illustrations, works in glass and Dalínian furniture.

Beniamino Levi, President of the Dalí Universe and show curator presented the artworks at the press conference held on November 29th. According to Levi, holding the exhibition in Matera’s rock complex) ‘creates an exciting link, that between Dalí and Italy, a link that began in 1935.’ In 2019, Matera becomes a European city of culture, along with Plovdiv.

In his autobiography ‘The Secret Life’, Dalí spoke of his admiration for great Italian artists and his wish to get to know them better , ‘Gala was beginning to interest me in a voyage to Italy. The architecture of the Renaissance, Palladio and Bramante impressed me more and more as being the startling and perfect achievement of the human spirit in the realm of esthetics, and I was beginning to feel the desire to go and see and touch these unique phenomena, these products of materialized intelligence that were concrete, measurable and supremely non-necessary”....I would say “It is impossible, even astrologically, to learn again, like the ancients, all the vestiges of technique that have disappeared. I no longer have time even to learn how to draw as they did before!”

Dalí was profoundly influenced by the great classic masters of the Renaissance.

Raffaelo was complete so unique, ‘Dalí affirms in his autobiography, he considered him ‘ the very genius of the Renaissance’.  He continues his eulogy to Raffaelo, stating, ‘I would have liked to have been similar to him’.In fact in 1921, he painted, ‘Self Portrait with Raffaelesque Neck’.

 In the artworks of the Italian Piero della Francesca, Dalí commented   they reflected ‘absolute triumph of monarchy and of chastity’.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s artworks ,for Dalí, were a reference point,  ‘If you refute to study anatomy, the art of design and perspective, maths or the science of colours, this is a sign of  laziness rather than genius.’

In order to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the birth of Dante Alighieri, the Italian government of the time commissioned Dalí  to illustrate  the verses of the Divine Comedy,  a project that lasted until 1953, when Dalí and Gala went to Rome to confirm the 102 graphics. The graphics were exhibited  in May 1954, at Palazzo Rospigliosi in Rome. It was Dalí’s first show in Italy and  he gave a speech in Latin, after having been transported around Rome  in a metaphysical cube.  During his stretch in Italy, Dalí’s fame and notoriety grew, he appeared on the TV show ‘ Arrivi e partenza’, and ‘Incontri’.

 Dalí won the Premio Internazionale Diano Marina in Liguria in 1968 for his work illustrating 105 graphics for the ‘Bible’;  Dalí worked with the famous Italian homeware designers Alessi, but the project never materialized.

New skin, a new land’, so wrote Dalí in ‘My Secret Life’. Perhaps without having had this connection with Italy, Dalí wouldn’t have blossomed into the artist he is known as today, as he states in his autobiography “my classicism would one day be more surrealist than their romanticism! And my reactionary traditionalism more subversive than their abortive revolution. The whole modern effort that had been accomplished during the Post-War period was false, and would have to be destroyed. Inescapably there must be a return to tradition in painting and in everything. Otherwise spiritual activity would quickly become nothingness. No one knew how to draw any more, or how to paint, or how to write. Everything was on the same level, everything was becoming uniform as it became internationalized. The formless and the ugly became the supreme goddesses of laziness”.

Following Dalí’s arrival in Italy in ’35, together with Gala, and his English patron Edward James, he visited Turin, Modena, Rome and Amalfi, where he stayed as a guest of James’s for several months in the 11th century Villa Cimbrone, in Ravello.

Between 1935 and 1937, Dalí and Gala travelled extensively throughout Italy, it was during this time that Dalí collaborated with Elsa Schiaparelli  and Léonide Massine, on the ballet Tristan Fou.  Spring 1938 saw the Dalí’s travel to Sicily, the landscape made an impression on the artist, reminding him of his hometown Cadaques.

In the following years, Dalí explores scientific theories, in an attempt to continue the work started by the Renaissance masters.  His 1948 book ‘Fifty magic Secrets for Painting’ is an eulogy to classicism. Dalí said, ‘Let me be the first precursor of that new Renaissance!!’

In 1948, after having spent eight years in the USA, Dalí and Gala returned to Europe, they stayed in Vicenza; where Dalí studied the architecture of Andrea Palladio.  He collaborated with Fabrizio Clerici on a theatrical production.  In the same year, Dalí visited Bomarzo sculpture park near Viterbo, 79 km north of Rome.  

In 1964, Pier Paolo Pasolini, the great Italian film director, chose Matera for the set of his film ‘The Gospel According to St Matthew’. The abandoned town enchanted Pasolini, as did the rocky landscape of Cadaques enchant Dalí, both places becoming a font of artistic inspiration.

Dalí artworks in Matera will surely enrich the cultural heritage already in place in this amazing thousand year old city. As Beniamino Levi himself says,

‘Who better than Dalí  to represent European culture, and not only that of Europe…… ’.

The Dalí Universe Collection of artworks has been exhibited the world over, seen by over 12 million people in more than 100 museums worldwide.  The first Italian city to host the collection was Ferrara in 1984.  Followed by Bari (1988), Rome and Naples 1989, Genoa 1991 and more recently Bologna in 2016.