The Pompidou attempts the impossible

The museum is looking to beat its record attendance for a Dalí show

Dalí's "Rita Mae West room."
Dalí's "Rita Mae West room."FRANCOIS GUILLOT (AFP)

Nasty remarks such as "Franco was a saint" or "Freedom is shit" must not cloud the enormity of Salvador Dalí's body of work, both in terms of quantity and of quality. Some people may scratch no deeper than the genius' clownish surface, but not so the curators of a huge retrospective on the man who asserted "Le surréalisme, c'est moi." The show opens Wednesday at the Pompidou Center in Paris and encompasses the artist's entire career, from his youthful work right down to his very last painting, The swallow's tail (1983). Once that exhibition ends on March 25, it will be transferred to Madrid, where it will go on display at the Reina Sofía in yet another instance of museum partnerships.

Around 200 works comprising painting, sculpture, photography and audiovisual projects come together to create what, in the case of Paris at least, will surely be one of the biggest exhibitions in the last decade. The exhibition rooms are accessed through a giant egg that symbolizes bodily functions and visitors exit through a giant brain, which represents spiritual endeavors. The staging was created by the architect Óscar Tusquets, who respected Dalí's original idea for the 1979 show at the Pompidou.

Accustomed though they are to putting together major art shows in terms of size, quality and visitor attendance, the managers of the Pompidou are aware of the enormous challenge ahead: to reproduce the runaway success of the last great Dalí retrospective. But that will be pretty much impossible: over 840,000 people came to see that show in 1979, a record that has never been matched. Dalí in person showed up at the door in a Rolls-Royce, with a cane in one hand and a lobster in the other.

Around 200 works come together to create one of the biggest exhibitions in the last decade

Museums from all over the world, including the MoMa, Tate and the Salvador Dalí Museum in Saint Petersburg (Florida) loaned work for this show, which includes some of his most famous works, such as The persistence of memory, The great masturbator and Aphrodisiac telephone.

"This exhibition puts us on our guard against all prejudices and sets up a challenge: the re-evaluation of Dalí's work in a museum context," says Manuel Borja-Villel, director of the Reina Sofía. "I hope that this show finally restores Dalí's work, because very often Daliesqueness has overtaken Dalí himself."

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