"How wonderful to crunch a bird’s tiny skull." Salvador Dalí
The night of Halloween is around the corner and, for the first time this year, Art Evolution is going to "unveil" Dali’s monumental sculpture the "Triumphant Elephant” one of the most important works in the Dalí Universe Collection.
On this occasion, the Dalí Universe wants to ’reveal’ Dalí's sculptural work and show its many sides: dark, skeletal and cannibalistic, the hard and the soft.
Although they are not sculptures with purely spectral themes, in the Dalí Universe Collection there are some elements that can lead, intriguingly, to ghostlike and cannibalistic thoughts.
These sculptures, due to their being in the third dimension, embody the complexity of Dali’s figure, the "monstre sacré" ¹ with his upward pointing moustache and the eyes of a hallucinated person. Dali declared that "I have hoped to be wild and cannibalistic” eating a “theoretical meal” with “a well-known, sanguinary, and irrational grilled cutlet […] caviar and finishing it with the even headier and deliquescent imponderable of Camembert".
The spectral Dalí is on display at d’Arenberg.
Dalì was obsessed with the image of the skeleton, the part of the body which, as he himself said, has the honour of showing the fact that: "the profound structure of my personality is binary: I’m double-headed and twofold."
The body of a woman, according to the Catalan artist, is perfect only if it is possible to grasp at its bony conformation through its protrusions. Dalí said that only one thing is important: “this single thing is a special conformation of the hip bones, which absolutely must be very prominent – pointed, so to speak – so that one knows they are there, under no matter what dress: present and aggressive".
The recurrent skeletal structure is evident not only in Dalí’s pictorial and sculptural productions but it has also been a constant theme that has accompanied the artist throughout his life.
In an interview with French writer Alain Bosquet, Dalí said: "At this very moment, a young lady is sitting next to us. Her knees are magnificent. And these knees of hers will be a point of departure for my magic. Later on, I’ll use them as an element in my painting […]. That’s my genius!! "
Dalí's sculptural work is rich in elements and symbols linked to his obsession with the skeleton and with cannibalism. The presence of these elements leads the observer to explore the dark, ghostly and cannibalistic side of the Dalí Universe Collection sculptures.
The bronze work “Triumphant Elephant", is a perfect example of how Dalí was able to bring his obsession with the skeleton into the third dimension. In this sculpture, Dalí inverts the idea that the elephant is heavy and robust but instead gives it excessively long legs, juxtaposing the enormous weight with the fragility of thin joints.
The thread-like legs resemble stilts or crutches which are represented by projecting the bone structure out of the pachyderm’s skin. The skeleton shows the kneecaps as angular bumps which are even more evident because of the marked contrast between the representation of the upper and the lower part of the elephant. Above, the muscular anatomy shows the body of the animal made of flesh, skin and cartilage; whereas below, the skeletal anatomy shows the actual bone structure in detail.
The result is to generate in the observer the vision of a spooky and surreal creature, whose skeletal legs support a heavy upper mass while the carnal body of the animal shows its metamorphosis becoming skeletal in its lower part.
One of Dalí's favourite themes is illustrated: the contrast between "the soft and the hard", the exterior and the interior, represented in this work by the dichotomy between the soft cartilage of the big ears and the hardness and angularity of the pachyderm kneecaps. In addition, this contrast is evident between the soft and hairy proboscis and the hard and shiny trumpet held by the angel.
For Dalí, the obsession with the skeleton is closely connected with his obsession with cannibalism. "How wonderful to crunch a bird’s tiny skull!", Dalí wrote in his autobiography "The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí”. He claimed he wanted "to kill as many of these secrets as possible, and to kill them with my own hands," secrets that appear as ghosts around the "monstre sacré " of the "Divine Dalí".
"The bird always awakens in man the flight of the cannibal angels of his cruelty," said Dalí, " Small birds are very much like small shell-fish. They wear their armor, so to speak, flush with their skin."
"The most philosophic organs man possesses are his jaws," wrote Dalí in his autobiography "The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí ". "What, indeed, is more philosophic than the moment when you slowly suck in the marrow of a bone that is being powerfully crushed in the final destructive embrace of your molars, entitling you to believe that you have undisputed control over the situation? For it is at the supreme moment of reaching the marrow of anything that you discover the very taste of truth, that naked and tender truth emerging from the well of the bone which you hold fast between your teeth”.
Through his state of paranoia, Dalí illustrated his obsession with cannibalism in sculpture. His images, well known as "double images", can become triple images and further multiply and this process depends on the paranoid capacity of the observer, according to Dali.
Dalí’s obsession with cannibalism, simultaneously attributes double, triple and multiple meanings in which Dalí himself, not knowing the total number, opens the door to the observer's infinite imagination.
"Different spectators see different images in the same painting” said Dalí; “it goes without saying that the realization is scrupulously realistic ".
Dali’s 1931 painting entitled "The Persistence of Memory", in which the famous image of the "melting clock" appears for the first time, has now evolved into a third dimension in the bronze sculpture “Profile of Time”.
This sculpture clearly embodies Dalí’s obsession with the passage of time. In this work Dalí represented the clock in a melting, fluid dimension, choosing the shape he reserved for the objects he detested.
The clock, apparently melting across the olive tree branches, shows the observer its "double image". When viewed by tilting one’s head to the left, a hidden image appears. The dial of the clock is transformed into the profile of Dalí: the curve of the forehead, with the number 10 next to it, alludes to his big hallucinated eyes; the elongated shape of the clock’s drop, symbolises the artist's nose; and finally, the curvature of a symbolic profile upwards to the number 9, is a clear reference to Dalí’s famous moustache.
Dalí loved to amaze, upset and disturb the viewer by involving them in his art. In this sculpture, he also wanted to incorporate his obsession with cannibalism.
"All my experiences are visceral," said Dalí "everything begins in the mouth and then goes elsewhere in the body, with the nerves. Man’s first philosophical instrument par excellence is his awareness of the real by his jaws”.
In the sculpture "Profile of Time", another hidden image appears. The "third image" shows the "cannibal angel" of a man awakened by Time, here reduced to a mollusc, which would have completely lost its form if it were not held up by the branches of a skeletal tree, which has been cut along its trunk, alluding to spinal vertebrae.
The observer is aware of the Dalinian obsession with cannibalism. An enormous tongue, in which a visible quantity of saliva drips out, "reveals" the wild and cannibal aspect of his sculptures.
Through this paranoid vision, Dalí manifests his desire to consume "a theoretical meal […] with the even headier and deliquescent imponderable of Camembert" served on the branches of a skeletal olive tree.
On the evening of October 31st, the prestigious d'Arenberg winery will host the exclusive event "Salvador Dalí unveiled in d’Arenberg" transforming the unique and evocative space of the winery, into a perfect background to show the dark and skeletal side of the monumental sculpture the "Triumphant Elephant”.
The exhibition of Salvador Dalí’s bronze sculpture, inside the iconic d’Arenberg Cube, offer the public the opportunity to view the Catalan genius’s works of art, in this splendidly maintained and illuminated space.
On this Halloween evening, the famous image of the "melting clock" will become the matrix to reveal to visitors the countless images and the multiple meanings that can bring to light the dark, skeletal and cannibal side of the collection's sculptural work in the Dalí Universe.
“While on my knees, I perceive through the window Gala’s yellow boat arriving at the jetty. I go out and run down to embrace my treasure. […] And never have I felt so much like eating her ".
¹ Alain Bosquet, in "Conversation with Dalí", begins his interview with Dalí calling him "monstre sacré ", with reference to the term that the French poet Jean Cocteau reserved for the greatest actors he deeply admired.
Diary of a Genius Salvador Dalí, 1963.
The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí Salvador Dalí, 1942.
Catalogue Raisonné of Salvador Dalí Paintings (https://www.salvador-dali.org).
Conversation with Dalí, Alain Bosquet, 1969.
Clocking in with Salvador Dalí: Salvador Dalí's Melting Watches (thedali.org)
Coffee with a Curator: Dalí’s Ghosts (The Dalí Museum video)