The Divine Dalí: that’s how artist Salvador Dalí referred to himself. “I am the supreme swine,” he once told an interviewer. “The symbol of perfection is the pig.” After Marcel Duchamp, but before Andy Warhol, Dalí understood how to manipulate the press to create a mass-media image of celebrity, a position that few visual artists are able to hold. Fast-forward to the present, and we find the incomparable Francesco Vezzoli, a charismatic artist who has the ability to woo Helen Mirren, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, and Lady Gaga to take part in his outrageous productions. With a stroke of genius, Stockholm’s Moderna Museet has brought Dalí and Vezzoli together in an exhibition that explores their mutual interest in fame, fortune, and creativity.
Dalí Dalí featuring Francesco Vezzoli weaves its way through a selection of Dalí’s paintings and prints from the 1930s, considered to be his best period for traditional media, into the surrealist master’s engagement of commercial projects — ranging from chess sets, tableware, and jewelry to advertisements, playing cards, and fashion and film collaborations with Elsa Schiaparelli and Alfred Hitchcock. Standout paintings include the sexually charged and somewhat perverse 1933 canvas The Enigma of William Tell and Sleep, a nightmarish vision from 1937 of a melting face, propped by sticks in a serene but barren landscape.
When one life ends, the next begins. Following the Dalí overview is a retrospective of the flamboyant Vezzoli’s work, which directly references Dalí, as well as Warhol, Duchamp, and Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini. Hung salon-style in a theatrical setting, Vezzoli’s portraits of tearful actresses, movie directors, and princesses are mixed with his posters and advertisements for a Remake of Gore Vidal’s Caligula and his new fragrance, Greed. Three of his best videos are also on view: 2005’s Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal’s Caligula; 2006’s Marlene Redux: A True Hollywood Story, which constructs a fake E! channel-style profile of the artist as a scandalous upstart trying to make a surreal Hollywood movie based on Marlene Dietrich and Anni Albers; and a 2009 television commercial for Greed, The New Fragrance by Francesco Vezzoli, which was directed by Roman Polanski and captures Natalie Portman and Michelle Williams grappling on the floor to control the scent.
Sharing the magical realm of this museum show, Dalí provides a historical context that Vezzoli can continue to mine, while Vezzoli drags Dalí into the 21st century, where his influence still makes a mark.