Welcome, sinners, to the sixth (yes, sixth – who would’ve thought we’d come this far? Now there’s no stopping allowed anymore) installement of Spreeblick’s man for the fine arts.
Live and direct from Sin City, in this week’s edition, Charles discovers the true meaning of virtual reality. Twice.
Parting the Veil in Philadelphia
(Dali vs The Psychedelic Furs)
Dali was a savage. Also an artist, yes, but when one is confronted with a long series of his works, one must first acknowledge his relentlessness, his unrestrained ferocity. Last week, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, his ferocity was on full display.
The early works lull you. They are simply beautiful. It“™s obvious even here that he had an almost supernatural talent with the brush. Whether experimenting with classical techniques, impressionist landscapes, or painstakingly detailed miniatures, every picture implies a master artist who is not so much learning, as emerging. Then it gets brutal.
I paint with the most imperialist fury of precision to systematize confusion and to thus help discredit completely the world of reality
With his embrace of surrealism Dali declared war to extermination. This was not a war against the typically embattled illusions of society or materialism, but against the very act of perception. This is probably the period that most people are familiar with: the melting clocks, the white horses galloping through the air. All of his natural talents became focused on the hyper-realistic portrayal of the unfathomable. He did not pretend to understand what he painted, he only knew his subjects from his mind“™s eye, from his dreams. That was all the credibility that they needed.
Through his life, his subjects changed but his fervor was constant. In his final phase, he became obsessed with both Catholicism and atomic physics, simultaneously. He celebrated the unflagging velocity of atomic particles by portraying Madonnas literally exploding into component particles. Our petty perceptions had become too mundane for him. Instead, at the end he was attempting to tap into creation itself.
Normally, coming down from an exhibit like this would require a few hours of babbling in a coffee shop, but we were on a tight schedule. We went directly from Dali to the Psychedelic Furs. There“™s no way for me to sugar-coat this, it was completely jarring. I“™ll just say that a lot of cheap booze softened the blow.
Right off, it was a strange sort of scene. My friends and I are all in the 30-40 years old range, and we were among the young ones there. Also, having just come from New York we were a little surprised at how careful everyone was to say „excuse me“ and „sorry“ and generally respect your personal space. It was easy to strike up conversations waiting for (more) beer, and there was a sort of pleasantness all around. We were chugging beer desperately, so I don“™t recall the opening bands very well; I think that the first one sucked in a high school talent show sort of way, and the second band rocked, but in a way that was much less memorable.
By the time the main act came on, we were all pleasantly buzzed, and had shaken off the worst of the trippiness from the Dali exhibition. The Psychedelic Furs sounded great, and they weren“™t shy about hitting the crowd favorites. The singer was so relentlessly upbeat, however, that one couldn“™t help but wonder how he did it night after night without having a mental breakdown. He has this whole gangly, grinning, „oh, puh-LEASE“ sort of marionette thing that“™s almost distractingly artificial. We speculated that he must stay focused by thinking about his old school chums in coal mines and factories.
Somewhere in the endless procession of 80s hits, I had the kind of reflective moment that one slips into when re-immersed in music of one“™s youth. Who am I? Have I changed? Has everyone else? Is it because I“™ve gotten older or because I moved to New York? I was surrounded by people reliving younger days, variously posed as the princess or the pretty boy or the chubby-but-affable outcast; but in older skins now, with wedding rings, and bald spots and wrinkled eye-corners. Was it legitimate to play at being the same emotionally naÃ¯ve outcasts? Were they colluding with the band, as part of a larger performance beyond the confines of the stage?
Then I remembered a Madonna exploding, a fried egg on a hook, a silver teardrop of reality extruding itself from a hyper-real landscape. And then it didn“™t matter. Of course it wasn“™t legitimate. Of course it wasn“™t real. But it wasn“™t real the first time either, so what? A self-image is not truth, for me or for you or for anyone. At this instant, I see myself as a writer, and you as a reader, but this is not constant. In the very next moment…
I made for the door in horror and dashed out. This Magic Theater was clearly no paradise. All hell lay beneath its charming surface. O God, was there even here no release?
— Herman Hesse, Steppenwolf