Of the many catchphrases, idioms and non sequiturs coined by Salvador Dalí, the prolific 20th century painter, his description of the artistic school he is best known for is perhaps the most informative.
“Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision,” he once said.
If there is any tidy way of describing Dalí’s extensive and exploratory body of work, it may be “limitless.” He is best known for conjuring images apparently transferred directly from our dreams, with melting clocks, mutated animals and a hodgepodge of other faintly recognizable figures collected in desert landscapes.
In its current exhibition celebrating Surrealism, “Monsters & Myths: Surrealism and War in the 1930s and 1940s,” Nashville’s Frist Art Museum has collected several exemplary works by Dalí, along with fellow practitioners such as Magritte, Ernst and Miró.
In Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach, Frist provides an example of how Dalí’s enigmatic (and seemingly nonsensical) approach can be a way of wrestling with emotional turmoil and commenting on political events.
“Dalí shows the disappearing face of his late friend, the poet Federico García Lorca, who was killed by Fascists shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936,” according to the museum. “Following the irrational structure of a dream, incongruous images morph into one another. A desolate beach transforms into a footed dish filled with pears, and then into the profile of a dog, whose snout becomes a road and his head a hill. The dish becomes the face of Lorca. A grieving woman in front of a wall and a cavalry scene below the dog’s muzzle may allude to the devastation of the Spanish Civil War.”
Apparition is emblematic of the other pieces collected for this exhibition in the way that it juxtaposes reality-bending imagery with poignant social reflection.
“Through 79 objects, including paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and periodicals drawn primarily from the collections of The Baltimore Museum of Art and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, ‘Monsters & Myths’ highlights the brilliance and fertility of this period, which arose in response to Hitler’s rise to power, the Spanish Civil War and World War II — events that profoundly challenged the revolutionary hopes that had guided most Surrealist artists in the 1920s,” per Frist.
All told, it’s an exhibition that may, through its emphasis on universally incongruous imagery, demonstrate the everlasting quality of limitless vision.
Frist Art Museum is located at 919 Broadway.