Dalí rocks! He invented soft watches, the paranoiac-critic method, the museum as a theatre of experience and, even after his death, the exhibition in two acts.

If at the ned of last November, the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation opened the exhibition Dalí-Raphael. A prolonged Dream at the Teatre-Museu in Figueres, after the Night of the Kings on 6 January there was an intermission – like at the opera or a football match – and now a Raphael from the Prado Museum, The Virgin of the Rose (c. 1517) has been substituted by a Dalí: No title. The Basilica of Saint Peter. Explosion of mystical faith at the centre of a cathedral (1959-1974).

Salvador Dalí, Untitled. Saint Peter’s Basilica. Explosion of Mystical Faith in the Midst of a Cathedral. © Salvador Dalí, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, Figueres, VEGAP, 2019.

This surprising “explosion of faith” will keep good company with another of the works in the exhibition The Ascension of Saint Cecilia (c. 1955), inspired by one of Raphael’s Saint Catherines… And just to add to the confusion, both of the works by Dalí that are now present share the iconography of that transvestite Raphaelesque Saint Catherine. That is what you call disrobing one saint to dress the other.

Salvador Dalí, The Ascension of Saint Ceciliaca. 1955. © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2018.

One curious detail: this Explosion – if you will allow me to truncate the name – formed part of an installation, the Altar of Twisted Christ, which the public of the Teatre-Museu in Figueres were only able to see as a mirror reflection.

For some reason that is how it had to be. I cannot imagine Dalí hiding his Bread Basket or his Leda atòmica in that way.

Salvador Dalí, The preparatory study with a superposed plastic sheet. © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, VEGAP, 2019.

There are some interesting documents in the exhibition about this work, such as image of a preparatory study for the work with a plastic film superimposed, which shows how Dalí, and the great classical masters, worked.

But beyond his admiration for Raphael (I would have chosen the stereoscopic work According to “The School of Athens” and “The Fire in the Borgo” by Raphael (c. 1979)), there are two topics that the exhibition does not deal with and which seem rather interesting to me.

Dalí in his workshop in Portlligat, next to the photographer and friend Meli. Sitting in front of the work Explosion of mystical faith with a glued print of Raphael’s Saint Catherine of Alexandria. Photo Melitó Casals, “Meli”, 1971. Salvador Dalí’s image rights reserved.

First, Dalí chose this very space to paint the giant The Ecumenical Council (c. 1960), which is held in The Dalí Museum de St. Petersburg (Florida). And there is no doubt that this is a background produced under the direction of the master, by scene-painter Isidor Beà (Torres de Segre, 1910-Barcelona, 1996). Beà worked with Dalí from 1951 to 1982 and it would be interesting to see what the role of this assistant was in Dalí’s work. After all Raphael had a studio and assistants and nobody makes a fuss about that.

Dalí’s mysticism is a purely visual phenomenon

Second, when Dalí began the Explosion he was obsessed…explosions. The anarchist attacks on Barcelona at the turn of the century –especially the bomb at the Liceu (1893)– are present in the oral memory of the family. The atomic bomb also affected him. In the Bikini atoll twenty nuclear bombs were set off between 1946 and 1958.

And in 1959 Dalí designed the cover of a gigantic book of the Apocalypse setting of a nail bomb (which emulated the “Orsini” model used in the Liceu attack) on a plate of bronze.

The mystical and atomic phase of Dalí had begun with the Hiroshima explosion and a return to the Catholic faith and ended with a series of small controlled explosions. The mysticism of Dalí, like his eroticism, is a more visual than spiritual phenomenon.

The exhibition Dalí-Rafael. A prolonged revery can be seen at the Teatre-Museu Dalí in Figueres during the whole of 2019.