A theater critic made a point in a recent review that gives an unintended assist to museum goers.
The critic, Ben Brantley of the NY Times, wrote that re-visiting a stage performance is often better the second time around because the relationship between a theatrical work and a theater goer fluctuates. Citing his fresh reaction to characters in “Anna Karenina” and “David Copperfield” after re-reading their stories, he saw them differently because over time, he was different.
That’s the point for museum goers. As our lives change, the way we feel changes, and our reactions to familiar art works follows suit. In short, a second look can make a seemingly irrelevant image seem to the point.
Consider Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory”at New York’s MoMA, painted in 1931. http://ovalpike.com/article/the-enigma-of-salvador-dali Seeing pocket watches with the consistency of Camembert cheese dripping over a barren landscape through 21st century eyes – particularly in our shaky economic and terror-stressed time – turns the melting time piece into a current event. This 81-year-old painting of time stopped, of dead tree stumps decomposing and attracting insects, can make one think of Bashar Assad’s weekend massacre of 100.
Of course, the Surrealists were out to convey their own horrors of war after WWI. Seeking to overthrow the reality they knew, they freed images from their usual associations by placing the disparate side-by-side. Such flouting of logic was their declaration of war against the insanity of war. And if you’ll re-visit Dali’s work, you’ll recognize their relevance today.
Dali’s images of time pieces liquefying in a deserted stretch of land also makes Einstein’s case that time is not absolute, that it depends on who is perceiving it.
What’s more, the deep perspective and watches in Dali’s otherwise empty landscapes suggests that time is always on the way to disappearing. The timepieces oozing over a dead tree branch in “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory” at the Dali Museum in St. Pete, likewise makes the case that time is running out – a mess that’s still apropos.
Another Dali work in the Dali Museum collection, “Soft Watch Exploding,” pushes the point about the end of time as the watch hangs on a ledge, melting as usual, except this time, the watch parts pop out like so much debris.
Then there’s Dali’s painting “The Enigma of Hitler” at the Museo Nacional Reina Sofia, Madrid, which describes a few fragile figures made nearly invisible by a vast and barren landscape – apparently the last people left on a devastated earth. A monstrously oversized telephone receiver (Hitler’s mouthpiece?) hangs from a dead tree branch looking like a corpse burned-black and crying blood-filled tears.
Dali’s realist technique applied to imagined scenes make his improbable imagery persuasive – not to mention timely.