Beach trippin'

Like pop songs and catch phrases, artwork often suffers from overkill. Between posters, greeting cards, screen savers and even bedspreads, too much of a good thing can definitely make it bad. Salvador Dali could very well be one of those artists.

You "discover" Dali, a print goes up in your room, you think about surrealism, Freudianism, ism-ism ... and know that, despite what all those books say, this guy did some serious drug experimentation. It all blows your mind until one day when, out of nowhere, the melting clock becomes just another melting clock. The unthinkable has happened: The surreal becomes real.

When it comes to Dali, Central Floridians are particularly exposed. The St. Petersburg Dali Museum just happens to hold the most extensive collection of his works in the world. Though a trip there can definitely reinspire, you can only go so many times before it becomes less than remarkable.

So it's very likely that "Dali Over Daytona," the latest exhibit at the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach, contains Dali images you've seen before. Take, for instance, "Alison in Wonderland," a series of watercolors on loan from the Dali Museum. One of the best visual representations of Lewis Carroll's "children's" book I've seen, the depictions offer this psychedelic tale what Disney could never give it.

There are many other drawings, lithographs, watercolors and sculptures on loan from the Gulf Coast storehouse. But overall the exhibit is a rather surprising and eclectic one. Then again, Dali was a surprising and eclectic kind of guy. It would be fair to say that "Dali Over Daytona" offers tribute to the more playful side of the artist. There is indeed enough less-familiar pieces to make the trek to Daytona worthwhile.

"Imaginations and Objects of the Future" hales from the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. "Imaginations" is like a slice out of a crazy inventor's sketch pad. Salvador goes to town with his fantastic creations -- like a public shower that literally flies out to wherever you are, parks over your head like a cloud and rinses the dirt away. Other sketches feature creative musings, like a lobster telephone.

By far the most gratifying aspect of the exhibit as a whole is a photographic essay titled "Dali's Mustache," borrowed from a California organization called Curatorial Assistance, which is part of its "Halsman Archive." The project is a collaboration between Dali and celebrity photographer Philippe Halsman, who took the silver prints between 1952 and 1954. The end results were published in a coffee-table book of the same name.

Halsmann himself has a fascinating story. A one-time photographer for Life, the list of his career subjects reads like a who's-who list of the 1940s and 1950s -- Robert Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Georgia O'Keefe are a small cross-section of individuals he worked with. Albert Einstein was another friend, one that is remembered as the impetus behind the visa that allowed Halsmann to escape Nazi-threatened Europe.

In "Dali's Mustache," what you end up with is a bunch of pictures of two equally nutty friends goofing around. The format for the photo essay is Q&A. On a placard accompanying each photograph, Halsmann "asks" the questions and Dali "answers" in a mock-serious tone accompanied by a visual interpretation expressed in the unusual format of facial hair. The images are hilarious. Just imagine Dali having a field day with Adobe Photoshop.

"Dali's Mustache" beckons laughter. Park yourself on a bench toward the center of the octagon-shaped room and enjoy the giggles, guffaws, chuckles and chortles as they bounce off the walls. It is more than refreshing.

That's because the silver prints focus around a key element in the persona of the flamboyant Spaniard: his infamously dramatic mustache. Who knew that lip hair could be so expressive? There is Dali painting with his mustache, fishing for compliments with it, and even a picture where images of other famous mustache holders -- like Stalin -- adorn his own wiry facial hair.

"With the death of Kaiser Whilhelm, Hitler and Stalin, with Chaplin's withdrawal from the screen" the preface begins, "the era of the great mustache seemed to have come to an end. A desolate, whiskerless vacuum followed ... "

Halsman and Dali then take up where current times left them high and dry. They use his mustache to make commentaries on everything from Mother's Day to nuclear war to surrealism itself. Photograph after photograph offers a new and silly incarnation of Dali and his mustache. Halsman teases, "Dali, I know there is a raging bull hidden in you, as there is in every Spaniard. Is there anything that would bring it out?"

"Only one thing: Swiss cheese" is Dali's answer as he peers wide-eyed through a slice of swiss cheese, the sides of his mustache poking through the holes and his chin resting on a white plate.

Dali even offers a healthy dose of self-deprecation. Halsman inquires as to why Dali paints, and the artist replies, "Because I love art." The words are partnered by a visual in which a photo of Dali's face is framed by U.S. dollar coins. The wings of his mustache are curled into an "s" with two paintbrushes transforming them into a money sign.

The joke even extends to the audience. Halsman declares that he's figured his friend out. Dali's secret? That he is crazy. "Me, crazy?" the artist's rebuttal sends the accusation to the viewer. "I am certainly saner than the person who bought this book," he answers.

Or, in this case, the person silly enough to spend an hour dawdling about the exhibit.


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