The Artist Birthday Series

Salvador Dalí

While the majority of the Surrealist artists had become increasingly associated with leftist politics, Dalí maintained an ambiguous position on the subject of the proper relationship between politics and art. Leading surrealist André Breton accused Dalí of defending the “new” and “irrational” in “the Hitler phenomenon”, but Dalí quickly rejected this claim, saying, “I am Hitlerian neither in fact nor intention”. Dalí insisted that surrealism could exist in an apolitical context and refused to explicitly denounce fascism. Among other factors, this had landed him in trouble with his colleagues. Later in 1934, Dalí was subjected to a “trial”, in which he was formally expelled from the Surrealist group. To this, Dalí retorted, “I myself AM surrealism”.

Salvador Dalí arriving in New York City, December 7, 1936
Salvador Dalí arriving in New York City, December 7, 1936

In 1936, Dalí took part in the London International Surrealist Exhibition. His lecture, titled “Fantômes Paranoiaques Authentiques,” was delivered while wearing a deep-sea diving suit and helmet. He had arrived carrying a billiard cue and leading a pair of Russian wolfhounds, and had to have the helmet unscrewed as he gasped for breath. He commented that “I just wanted to show that I was ‘plunging deeply’ into the human mind.” In 1936, Dalí, aged 32, was featured on the cover of Time magazine.

dali diving suit
Dalí in his diving suit, at the London International Surrealists Exhibition on July 1, 1936, where he attempted to give his lecture “Fantômes Paranoiaques Authentiques.”

Also in 1936, at the premiere screening of Joseph Cornell’s film “Rose Hobart” at Julien Levy’s gallery in New York City, Dalí became famous for another incident. Levy’s program of short surrealist films was timed to take place at the same time as the first surrealism exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, featuring Dalí’s work. Dalí was in the audience at the screening, but halfway through the film, he knocked over the projector in a rage. “My idea for a film is exactly that, and I was going to propose it to someone who would pay to have it made”, he said. “I never wrote it down or told anyone, but it is as if he had stolen it”. Other versions of Dalí’s accusation tend to the more poetic: “He stole it from my subconscious!” or even “He stole my dreams!”

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