Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Enigma of Hitler

Above is a Dali work called "The Enigma of Hitler". I espied it while browsing through an online art gallery. For whatever reason, the pic grabbed my attention, and I decided to google around and try to learn about the context of the concoction.

The piece was created in 1938. It can be a waste of time to interpret Dali's creations, but the viewer should know that the umbrella is Neville Chamberlain's. The telephone, a common motif in Dali's works at that time, hangs on an olive branch. You've got the gloomy weather, which might either be dissipating or gathering into a storm. It's fair to speculate that Dali had some sense that global destiny hinged on communications between Hitler and Chamberlain.

Even at that time it was uncool to refer to Hitler without a qualifying epithet. Despite the unflattering depiction of Hitler, mixed with beans, with a tenuously dangling wad of sputum nearby, the surrealist community was appalled that Hitler might merely be referred to as an "enigma". It wasn't the first time that Dali tweaked the surrealist outlook, which extended far beyond techniques on a canvas. "Enigma of Hitler" was probably the last straw, however: Dali was effectively excommunicated from the group.

Dali went on to renew his Catholic practice. In utter contrast to Picasso, he also became an ardent supporter of Francisco Franco. He would write fawning letters to Franco, praising him for various political executions. The two met on at least one occasion. Despite Franco's very conservative cultural leanings, the Spanish art scene managed to survive, if not prosper, relatively unshackled during Franco's 35 or so years. I say "relatively" in reference to artistic freedom under dictators like Hitler and Stalin.

Dali's modus operandi was to shock, and be incessantly creative and contrary. He invented the Chupa Chups logo, worked with Disney and Hitchcock, and interacted with hundreds of aspiring artists on pilgrimage to his residence. As recently as 2003, Elmer Fudd pursued Bugs Bunny through the "Persistence of Memory". One has got to wonder if the world might look a bit different now if Dali had named the pic a tad differently ("Hitler, Beans, and Sputum"?) , if the surrealists had not possibly provoked a counter-reaction from Dali, or had Dali not heaped praise on a fascist dictator's ego.

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