A headless Chairman Mao

22 03 2014

Offering a fresh perspective on the great Surrealist master Salvador Dali, one that does look at him on a very personal level, SALVADOR DALI: The Argillet Collection opens its doors today at the REDSEA Gallery. The exhibition, featuring 112 of the artist’s works, a great number of which are etchings with which he collaborated with long time associate and friend Pierre Argillet on, is being brought in by Argillet’s daughter Christine and the gallery for what is the largest display of the collection as well as one that is seen for the very first time in Asia.

Madame Argillet on the Poems of Mao Zedong.

Madame Argillet on the ‘Poems by Mao Zedong’.

The works, all of which are available for private acquisition, span from traditional interpretations we see recurring in much of the artist’s work, to the ones influenced by the contemporary. In the series, Mythologie, we see works in which Dali reinterprets the symbolism in Greek mythology, often starting with a smudge. The series also sees the employment of Dali’s creative genius in which he experimented with various unconventional tools in working on the copper plates, including using a real Octopus immersed in acid in the etching for his work Medusa.

Medusa, Mythologie Series, 1963. 57 x 77 cm. Mixed-media print incorporating heliogauvre and drypoint etching. Arches. © CHRISTINE ARGILLET ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Medusa, Mythologie Series, 1963. 57 x 77 cm. Mixed-media print incorporating heliogauvre and
drypoint etching. Arches. © CHRISTINE ARGILLET ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Beside the many works from the period of the artist’s collaboration with Pierre Argillet, the exhibition also features a series of works that traces its origins back to the 1930s, The Songs of Maldoror. The work stems from a commission the artist received from Albert Skira to provide illustrations for the book Les Chants de Maldoror – a literary work by Lautreamont that serves as a source of inspiration for the Surrealist movement, for which 44 copper etchings were produced. 42 original plates were purchased by Argillet in 1971 with Dali reworking 8 of the plates – and what we do see at the exhibition will be the suite of 50 prints.

The entrance to the exhibition with an Aubusson tapestry 'Burning Giraffe'.

The entrance to the exhibition with an Aubusson tapestry ‘Burning Giraffe’.

What I did think were particularly interesting were two series being exhibited and on which Madame Argillet elaborated on at the media preview. One, the Poems by Mao Zedong, was commissioned in 1967 by Argillet and involves eight illustrations some of which were political satires. The works were executed during the cultural revolution was to include one that had told Argillet would be a portrait of Mao – what turned out to be a headless figure. Dali’s explanation for this was that the Mao was so tall that he could not be depicted in full in the illustration. The works also needed the blessings of the Chinese embassy for which Argillet was somehow able to obtain.

Portrait of Chairman Mao.

Portrait of Chairman Mao.

The Hippies, based on photographs from a visit Argillet made to India, involves an etching that had originally been worked on during a rare public appearance by Dali. As related by Madame Argillet, Dali had appeared in the presence of a huge crowd of journalists with a strange look in his eyes – producing nothing but a series of swirls on the copper plate, following which he promptly left despite Argillet’s attempts to convince him otherwise. He was to ask Agrillet for the plate a few day following that, saying that he had no recollection of the appearance as he had, at someone’s suggestion, taken LSD. From that – he was to produce Women in Waves, a etching that was to be one that would be very well received.

Madame Argillet on the Hippies series and 'Women in Waves'.

Madame Argillet on the Hippies series and ‘Women in the Waves’.

Women in the Waves.

Women in the Waves.

Beside the many striking etchings that bear many elements of the artist’s style, there are also three tapestries hand-woven in Aubusson. One, the Burning Giraffe, greets visitors at the entrance to the gallery. Despite its rather macabre depiction of a bullfight, with a burning giraffe that is depicted in several of the artist’s work, the tapestry does somehow have a rather charming quality.

Madame Argillet on 'Piano Under Snow'.

Madame Argillet on ‘Piano Under Snow’.

All works in the collection have been authenticated and signed by Salvador Dali and have never before left the Collection. The collection will be on display at the exhibition from 22 March to 20 April 2014 at the REDSEA Gallery located at Block 9 Dempsey Road.


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