Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dali for the Masses

In the great words of Louise Nevelson, “Art is everywhere . . . except it has to pass through a creative mind”.   We see art in the intricacy of the petals of a rose, the contour of a dancer’s back, the music of the wind through the trees.  In New York, though, there is all of that wonderful unintentional art (well, as far as man is concerned, anyway) as well as a plethora man-made, for lack of a better phrase, intentional art.  "Art", as it were, is shoved into every nook and cranny of the city, on every billboard, on the back of every bathroom stall, in every open courtyard, and on every wall of every condemned warehouse in Chelsea.  Jean Michel Basquiat-esque graffiti, trash sculptures, complex multi-media presentations, performance art, paintings, etchings, and carvings.  To say the market is saturated is a gross understatement.  Art, in New York, is more than everywhere . . . if that's even possible.  So, I was definitely less than surprised when I heard that the mall in the Time Warner Center was hosting a six-month-long exhibit of Dali sculptures.  Dali plus shopping mall?  How could I not go check it out?

My (soon-to-be-famous-television-star) friend, Erin Hiatt, and I schlepped over to the gargantuan Time Warner Center on the west side of Columbus Circle and dodged the folks streaming in and out of the glass doors to enter the shiny vestibule.  Here's the thing about the Time Warner building: it's a gorgeous and sweeping attempt at combining upscale shopping, even-more-upscale dining, condos, a hotel, and a cultural center.  Many New Yorkers even call it the city's newest landmark (it was completed in 2004).  Yes, it's structurally stunning.  Yes, Per Se is a dining experience not to be missed.  Yes, Jazz at Lincoln Center is a blast.  No, I don't think the Time Warner Center is all it was originally designed to have been.  It has, sadly, for lack of a better phrase, been overrun by the unwashed masses.  Okay, so they're not so unwashed.  In fact, some of the clientele probably bathes in La Mer, but nevertheless, it's pretty much always a zoo in there.  Maybe it's the Whole Foods in the basement, but every time I visit, there are screaming children running through the wide hallways, dirty John Jay students toting skateboards, and fanny pack and Old Navy-sporting tourists pouring over maps and brochures.  The apparently intended Ferragamo-wearing locals are either up at the bar at Masa or have moved their shopping to Bergdorff's because of the utter pandemonium that frequents the halls of the Time Warner.  Now, add to that 16 sculptures and 40 drawings by the infamously pompous and narcissistic Spanish surrealist, Salvador Dali.  Like I said, art: everywhere.  Even where you don't want to see it.

We picked our way to the rear of the main entrance and sure enough, the first sculpture, "Woman Aflame" was literally being scaled by a snotty-nosed five-year-old while her mother negligently sampled Godiva truffles a few feet away.  Mr. Dali, I'm sure, was rolling over in his mausoleum.  We were appropriately aghast.  Eventually, the woman called off her little beast and we were able to view the sculpture without its added appendage.  It, actually, was fairly interesting.  Not that I know a ton about art (obviously), but the motion of the figure was captivating and the angle of her back, the blank expression on her face, and the empty drawers protruding from her body made me, somehow, feel her tragic desperation.  I decided to take a walk around the sculpture.  Yeah . . . not so much.  I tried from every angle to get a view of the sculpture from more than two feet away and was cut off within thirty seconds by one oblivious shopper or another.  Truly, after a few minutes of trying to genuinely appreciate this DALI, I was so frustrated that I didn't care anymore.  Hiatt folded her arms and gestured toward a large brass sculpture of one of his famous melting clocks.  A woman with a stroller and seventeen shopping bags was literally moving the red rope around it to accommodate her girth.  No attention was paid to the piece of art above her.  She was too busy sipping her latte and looking for the Coach store.  Wow.  Just . . . wow.

Now, while I understand the whole idea behind the Dali exhibit, I am more upset by the disregard for these pieces.  Well, I was.  Until I offhandedly commented to Hiatt, "I didn't know Dali was a sculptor". She responded, "He wasn't".  I looked a little closer.  She was right.  All of the sculptures that we saw were created with what was called the "lost wax casting process".  Basically, Dali approved and oversaw an initial set of castings that were done in the 1980's that were based on his paintings.  The key word being: oversaw.  So . . . he didn't sculpt them with his own hands/tools/eye/time?  Forgive me, readers, for being naive in the world of art, but do people really do this?  I guess this begs the question: how far removed can a piece be from the artist and still be considered said artist's art?  (Now, that's a whole other blog.)  I felt a little gypped.  I knew something seemed a little not-Dali-esque about them (I happen to have seen a number in person).  Now, I knew why.  Forgive the analogy, but it was like seeing a Prada-ripoff in TJ Maxx.  Okay, maybe not that bad, but I was definitely a little let down.

As Hiatt and I diligently perused the remainder of the pieces throughout the mall, I wondered how many other of these sculptures had been made from the same cast.  Somehow, that made it a little less special that there were other "Women Aflame" (potentially in other shopping malls throughout the world).  Not that I thought a first-grader should have permission to climb on the one in New York, but I realized that, perhaps, this exhibit was a little more appropriate to its surroundings than I thought.  I looked across the crowd into the Prada and spotted a purple patent leather bag.  Now, THAT'S art, I thought.  Hmm . . . Maybe that was the point of the whole lost-wax casting thing.  How many of these people would ever go to the Vatican Museum in Florence (like me!) and see Dali's "The Trinity"?  Probably not many.  How many could afford that fabulous Prada yumminess in the window?  Definitely not me.  I'm guessing these sculptures weren't as pricey as the one-of-a-kind paintings done by Mr. Dali's own hand, so how different were they than a really good Prada knock-off?  (Yes, I get that he approved the mold and I'm assuming Miuccia Prada did not approve the knock-offs, but bear with me, here.)  Essentially, the folks at the Time Warner Center had brought Dali to the masses.  Surrealist art in a shopping mall.  Art: everywhere.  Will the sculptures make your shopping experience a little more interesting?  Yes.  Will the people that have been living under a rock and have not seen the melting clocks potentially stop and ponder the brilliance of the concept?  Sure.  Do the crowded pretentious shopping mall and the kind-of-but-not-really-Dali sculptures deserve one another?  Probably.

No comments: