DALÍ THE ICEBERG

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This Season: Olivia Weinberg looks forward to Salvador Dalí in Paris, the highlight of the winter exhibitions... 

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, November/December 2012

The Surrealists were wacky but Dalí was wackier. His paintings of wobbly clocks, oversized limbs, waiflike figures—half human, half chest of drawers—reveal less than a snippet of his imagination. "My painting is like an iceberg," he once said, "which shows only a tenth of its volume." Under the ice lurks an even more surreal Mr Dalí, and a new exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in Paris promises to dig deep.

A flamboyant exhibitionist, with a haughty expression, walking stick and freshly waxed moustache, Salvador Dalí carried with him an air of controversy. His work flutters between the disgusting and the filthy, the monstrous and the totally bonkers. Halfway between enchanting fairytales and gruesome horror stills, his paintings are packed tight with colour and symbolism. "The Persistence of Memory", 1931 (above), is a prime example. His meticulous attention to detail and deliberate confusion transports us into a world of enhanced hyper-reality, a method he labelled "paranoiac critical".

His paintings are not beautiful. They spark no great emotion and can be fiendish to untangle. But what they do show is rare technical ability. Beneath the megalomania is a man who knew exactly how to use his brush, combining expert Flemish-style accuracy with the showy baroque of Old Master painting. "Soft Construction with Boiled Beans", 1936, shows Dalí's savage vision of his country during the Spanish civil war. A fleshy, decomposing figure rips itself apart against a sky that is almost Raphael-like. "I am a man of the Renaissance," he said, "I would sign a pair of pants if someone commissioned me to."

Pants is pushing it, but he did produce a range of gimmicky knick-knacks and a mass of dodgy prints—he signed thousands of blank pieces of paper with a colourful array of signatures and is now one of the world's most forged artists. He may have liked the odd gag, but beneath the bravado is substance, and a modern master who stretched and reshaped the story of art.

Salvador Dalí  Pompidou Centre, Paris, Nov 21st to March 25th

EXHIBITIONS AT A GLANCE

George Bellows (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Nov 15th to Feb 18th). Bellows liked to paint boxers full of raw, savage energy. When he died in 1925, he was hailed as one of America's greatest artists. Is he still?

The Scottish Colourist Series: S.J. Peploe (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, Nov 3rd to June 23rd). Fluid brushwork, heavy impasto, tight composition: Peploe makes you want to paint.

Francis Bacon: Five Decades (Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, Nov 17th to Feb 24th). With their warped bodies and mashed faces, Bacon's portraits are both disturbing and mesmerising. "I've made images the intellect would never make," he said.

R/Evolution on Paper. Five Centuries in Drawings from the Klüser Collection (Alte Pinakothek, Munich, to Jan 20th). A few sketchy marks can give an intimate glimpse into a creative mind. Here are 200 drawings by some of the best: Delacroix, Giacometti, Beuys. 

In the Light of Amarna: 100 Years of the Find of Nefertiti (Neues Museum, Berlin, Dec 7th to April 13th). It's a century since Ludwig Borchardt discovered the famous polychrome bust of Nefertiti. This show unveils more than 150 restored artefacts that have been trapped in the vaults for decades.

Light from the Middle East: New Photography (V&A, London, Nov 13th to April 7th). The V&A's first big look at this subject: 90 works by some of the sharpest eyes from north Africa to Central Asia.

Olivia Weinberg is a former Intelligent Life intern and a master's graduate from King's College, London