Meeting Head to Head: The Giants of Modern Art

By: Mackenzie Patel

Esteemed Writer/Blogger

Picasso, the most revered and well-known artist of the 20th century, takes Dali, the surreal maverick, head on in a new exhibition at the Dali Museum in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. Jam packed with interesting images and thought-provoking comparisons, this exhibition is the first one in the world to compare the art of Dali with that of Picasso. Although their two styles are distinct, both infuse common subjects, themes, and current events into their provocative and masterful works. The exhibition, which follows the Marvels of Illusion and glitzy Andy Warhol shows, will run from November 8th,2014 until February 16th, 2015.

Both Dali and Picasso heralded from Spain, attended the same art school in Madrid, and were involved in the bizarre Surrealist movement that earned Dali his sought-after fame. They made their artistic marks in Paris and believed that Barcelona was the most culturally eminent and exciting city in Spain. However, Dali was an unabashed and spoiled eccentric artist from Northern Spain (sophisticated) while Picasso grew up in the passionate, emotional, and distinctly Andalusian culture of Southern Spain. Dali painted with an almost photorealistic stylist (despite the often disturbing, unrecognizable subjects, his images were painted meticulously), while Picasso slashed at his canvas with broad lines, garish colors, and cubic shapes. There was a 23 year age difference between the two modern masters, with Picasso adopting an almost fatherly role to the young and impressionable Dali. After an amiable relationship of around ten years, the two had a falling out over political events that had reared their ugly heads in Spain in the mid 20th century (i.e. Picasso was a communist while Dali supported Franco, a harsh dictator). Although Picasso didn’t acknowledged Dali the day he supported the repressive Spanish regime, he still kept the quirky postcards that Dali sent without fail every July. Both artists, brilliant masterminds and forgers of new styles, rocked the modern art scene through their poignant works, unusual subjects, and pure rejection of art styles that had for centuries been the accepted standard. Because of them, “safe,” conventional art was tossed out the window, and their lives and works would be inseparable for most of their meteoric careers.

The exhibition space, a clean, gray room that immediately hushed the voices of every spectator, opened up with massive photographs of the two artists side by side. This initial introduction pretty much summed up the entire show of a staggering 92 works. It is disconcerting just how uncannily similar many paintings of Picasso and Dali were; however, the way in which they were depicted (i.e. their artistic style) was the major blaring difference. For every Picasso work, a matching Dali work was paired next to it without fail. Whether it was portraying war, women, political figures, nondescript heads, or the works of the original Spanish master, Velázquez, Picasso automatically rendered them in a broader, primitive style, while Dali opted for a more classical, realistic approach. The beginning paintings in the show, which depicted the female influences in the men’s lives and their self portraits, gradually progressed to more key stages in their careers (i.e. the discovery of Surrealism, Cubism, and the influence of the Spanish Civil War). The show finally concluded in a very classical tone, with side by side renditions of the Infanta Margarita, the pampered princess from Velázquez’s “Las Meninas” painting in the Prado Museum. Throughout the show, one had the impression that Dali was trying to emulate and catch up to the prolific Picasso, already regarded as one of the best artists of all time during his own life. Their relationship undoubtedly encountered many snags, but overall, their two careers were directly influenced by one another. Interestingly, although both tackled Surrealism, they approached the style in very different ways. Dali was interested in depicting the unconscious while Picasso painted morphing, juxtaposing figures from an ethereal place. A few key works seemed to steal the spotlight of the show, and for good measure because their net worth was just as high as their visual pleasure. “Neo-Cubist Academy,” created by Dali in 1926, was painted just after Dali visited Picasso’s studio in Paris for the first time. Pulsing with geometric figures, seductive imagery, and deconstructed objects taken directly from Picasso’s studio (i.e. the Classical bust), this large painting is an homage to Dali’s admiration of Picasso. The second, and perhaps more enigmatic work, was “Minotauromachy,” an etching completed by Picasso in 1934. Strangely, Picasso depicted himself as a fierce Minotaur, the half-bull, half-man figure from classical mythology. The nude woman atop the horse, reputedly one of his multiple muses, only adds to the dark mystery. Is she dead? Is she dreaming? Is she real or just a phantom of Picasso’s whirring imagination? Many more works such as this one add to the haunting thrill this exhibition has to offer.

If anything, this exhibition is worth visiting just to view the snarky and not exactly flattering portrait of Picasso that Dali completed in 1947. Although this new show has the feel of a conservative, top rate museum in Europe, it is vibrant with Spanish culture, imagery, and emotion. With well chosen and interesting works, this exhibition goes above and beyond merely satisfying the craving for art we all experience one time or another (even if one is unfamiliar with museum life). It is definitely worth seeing at least once, if not multiple times!

Practical Information:

Where: The Dali Museum, downtown St. Petersburg

Admission: General Admission is $24 and admission for teens (ages 13-17) is $17. After 5 p.m. on Thursdays, there is a reduced price.

Reading: Before the show, consider reading “Pablo Picasso” by Hajo Düchting.

Follow Mackenzie on Twitter: @LearnTravelArt

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About Grace Masback

Grace Masback, 17, aspires to give voice to the voiceless and holds the modest ambition of becoming the voice of Gen Z. Frustrated by the dearth of impactful platforms for teen journalists, she founded WANT, a news, sports, and entertainment website that aggregates the best in high school journalism from school newspapers and teen bloggers around the world (www.wantnewsforteens.com).

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