On Saturday, Aug. 7, Santiago El Grande, a 13-foot-high portrait of Saint James, will commandeer a gallery in Atlanta’s High Museum of Art. Salvador Dalí’s painting of the patron saint of Spain riding an enormous white horse against a blue-latticed background will take many visitors to the museum’s blockbuster “Dalí: The Late Work,” by surprise, said the High Museum’s director, Michael Shapiro. Especially those who think of Dalí only for his melting clocks.
“All of us who have grown up looking at The Persistence of Memory at MoMA, which is a tiny 8-by-10-inch picture, seeing the scale at which he is working is really going to be a jolt,” said Mr. Shapiro. Santiago El Grande had not left its home in Canada for more than 50 years.
The exhibition is subtitled “The Late Work” for a purpose. While Dalí is not an obscure artist, his name and legacy is mainly associated with his dreamlike works of the post World War I-era. Dalí’s late work, however, has gotten somewhat of a bad rap over time. “Everyone in my generation, we were all taught that the late work was frankly beneath contempt,” Mr. Shapiro said. “That while his work in the ’20s and ’30s is inspired and meritorious, that in the ’40s and on he kept plumbing new depths rather than new heights. But in fact what I had realized is, I accepted a party line.”
Spanish-born Dalí, Surrealist master, had his first solo exhibition in Barcelona in 1925. He moved to America during World War II and spent the rest of his life working in either New York’s St. Regis Hotel, in Paris or in Spain. In the later years of his life, he became somewhat of a commercial spectacle, sporting his unmistakable mustache. He even appeared on What’s My Line? (in which he answered “yes” to virtually every question), threw lavish, absurdist parties and took various Dali groupies out to Trader Vic’s in the Plaza Hotel.
When he was already well-established in his career, Dalí, born of a Catholic mother, found God, so to speak. Becoming increasingly religious, he began to work in a style deemed “nuclear mysticism.” In 1952, The New York Times reported at the time, Dalí spent seven days in isolation on the Spanish coast and returned with an image of the Assumption of the Virgin in which he called her body “atomic.”
For an artist whose most famous works dealt within the mysterious confines of the human psyche, Dalí’s turn to religious images more commonly associated with the Old Masters has been difficult to understand.
“Hopefully [the show] will change the way that a lot of people think about Dalí,” said the show’s curator, Elliott King. “Just thinking of him more. Not pigeonholing him as much as perhaps some have. Not writing him off as kitsch.” The High exhibition features more than 100 of Dalí’s works (including jewelry and sculpture) and explores his connection to Pop Art. “His extraordinary showmanship,” said Mr. Shapiro, “seems to have inspired Andy Warhol and by extension Jeff Koons.”
With this show, “what we found was there was a number of really significant works that had not been seen for 50 years,” Mr. Shapiro said. “It had really almost been impossible to judge the work in the full way until now.”