I am not an art critic. I have no ‘art’ credentials, some might say no taste either! So a tour of the life and works of Salvidor Dali – visiting both his home in Port Lligat and his Theatre Museum in Figueres, was more perplexing than perhaps it might have been.
Of course, I have come across Dali before – his red lips sofa, his melting clock, his obsession with eggs and of course his ubiquitous moustache.
What I hadn’t appreciated was his obsession with stuffed animals – from the 3 swans that he used to feed on the beach, which on death were stuffed and displayed in his library, to the grotesque rhinoceros head set amid giant eagle wings, to the two kid goats in his bedroom and the jewellery adorned polar bear in his entrance hall…. I knew immediately this was a man I simply could not like!
The house would, in other circumstances (ie. with different less famous owners) have been condemned as a monument to knock-knackery in particularly bad taste. Instead, people take what is a tortuously slow and windy drive on an unreasonably busy road to visit the house where tickets must be booked and paid for in advance, and collected no less than 20 minutes before your appointed tour time. Each tour – at 20 minute intervals – is limited to just 8 people. The ticketing system means that each group has to hang about in a place where there is nothing else to do, and precious little shelter from the rain that started falling on our arrival. Perhaps I was not in the best state of mind to appreciate the brilliance of what for me was simply weird. It felt like Dali had increasing been playing out a huge practical joke on his adoring public, pausing the boundaries of what they would accept as art simply because it had his name on it.
If not for the taxidermy, I might have shown more sympathetic interest in how this weirdness came about. What sort of childhood did he have, why did he love flies so much he would honey the ends of his moustache to attract them? And why did he love the sound of crickets – so much that had a Lille cage of crickets embedded in his bedroom wall? But I really did care enough to find out.
Two things did pique my interest… an oval room where, if you stand in the very centre and talk, you can’t hear anything other than your voice literally reverberating through your body (but no one else in the room can hear the echoes). I thought it was fascinating and really wanted to know how it was done – who wouldn’t want a room where you can only hear the sound of your own voice? Oh, wait, now I’m sounding weird.
The second useful idea was a mirror, carefully positioned in the bedroom so that he could lie in bed and see the sunrise … I could do that at home, I thought.
The theatre museum in Figueres – we devoted our single non-cycling day to this excursion – was slightly less weird, probably only because it wasn’t a place where people actually lived. But now that I survey the photographs, actually also pretty weird. As an artist he was prolific.
His jewels were a highlight for me – intricate pieces of precious metals and stones, perhaps a little less weird than the rest.
Judge for yourself – a genuis, an artist, and a truly scarily weird man! I leave the last word to the man himself: “There is only one difference between a madman and me. The madman thinks he is sane.”