In case you haven’t heard, “The Persistence of Memory,” Salvador Dalí’s echt-Surrealist work, is coming to the High Museum of Art. Thanks to the High’s relationship with its owner, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, those melting watches will join “Dalí: The Late Work” on November 16.
One floor above hangs “Moustache” (below), a wrought-iron version of Dalí’s famous facial hair by Jeff Koons, aptly juxtaposed to Pop artist Tom Wesselman’s giant, disembodied female lips. These works speak to, well, the persistence of Surrealism.
Although the Surrealists’ dreamscapes were shocking in the 1930s, as were the Freudian concepts on which they were based, their imagery and compositional strategies are now so fully integrated into our mental and visual culture that we hardly notice their ubiquity.
After visiting the High’s Dalí show, I started noticing Surrealism’s progeny everywhere I turned: the non-sequitur collages of Mike Germon and Truett Dietz at Beep Beep Gallery last month, the floating body parts in Nancy Baker’s drawings at Marcia Wood Gallery, the plausibility of the impossible in Jerry Uelsmann’s photographs at the Art Institute of Atlanta.
High curator Michael Rooks addresses this phenomenon in “The Surrealist Conspiracy,” an exhibition drawn from the museum’s collection, Atlanta private collectors and galleries, on the Skyway. Works by Man Ray, Max Ernst and photographer Frederick Sommer share the small gallery with 21st-century examples.
The naturalistic descriptions of the unnatural in Atlantan Yanique Norman’s drawing “Jesus and I” suggest a Dalí lineage. David Altmejd’s use of myth and religion in his sculpture “Glass Walker” would do Carl Jung proud. The hovering hairy man-beast sprouting crystal shards evokes Icarus, St. Sebastian, horror films and that archetypal falling nightmare all at once.
The Surrealists were hardly the first to invoke the world of dreams, of course. Fifteenth-century Dutch artist Hieronymous Bosch, represented by a tiny copy in the show, is their acknowledged forefather. Odilon Redon gets a nod as well.
The difference was Freud. He made artists conscious of their subconscious. It’s well known that Jackson Pollock and other future Ab-Exers experimented with automatic writing; you can see some of that early work in the Stent wing.
Koons is Mr. Id. The avalanche of double-entendres in his paintings and his explication of them during his recent lecture are Freud’s dream analysis incarnate. In his case, it seems, a cigar is never just a cigar.
Even though aspects of Freud’s thinking have been discredited, his work affected the course of art history. Dalí’s iconic “Persistence of Memory” was just the beginning.