Photo: Grace Batton / The Daily Gamecock

Dali's Fantastical Fairy Tales at the CMA

Chief curator discusses cultural impact of Dali's work

The Columbia Museum of Art will have an exhibit of Salvador Dali illustrations entitled “Salvador Dali’s Fantastical Fairy Tales" through May 21. The exhibit offers Columbia residents a chance to witness first hand the artwork of a true master of the craft. The exhibit is made up of storybook illustrations Dali did in the 1950s based on the stories of “Alice in Wonderland," “Don Quixote" and Hans Christian Andersen. Each individual picture at the exhibit feels like its own world whenever you stare at it long enough.

The CMA’s chief curator, Will South, sat down with The Daily Gamecock to talk about the exhibit, Dali and what this show means to the city of Columbia.

It all started a few years ago when an education staffer named Leslie Pierce was determined to bring a Dali exhibit to Columbia. Unfortunately, before she could realize her goal, Leslie passed away. However, she did have a friend at the Dali Museum, and South said because of that they were able to get their foot in the door and get the exhibit off the ground. “It was just collegiality, it was just opening up a conversation and bam it worked,” South said, “But Leslie really gets the credit for that bit.”

The planning of an exhibit of this scale is pretty extensive. First, a contract must be signed by the hosting museum, then exclusive shipping and handling must be undertaken for the artwork to get to its destination and a facility report proving the existence of the museum itself must be filled out, and the insurance company must have paperwork for all of the art. Once it finally arrives at the museum, the art needs to acclimate in the crates for a day before they are unboxed. “All that happens before you ever see the show,” South said. 

South’s job as curator for the museum means he acts as the architect for setting up the experience you will have while at the exhibit. “[I] work on arranging the show, writing some interpretive labels, lectures, tours, and we train docents so they are able to give the tours. So it’s quite the process,” he said. 

South believes that the existence and success of CMA and the exhibit comes from how well the city has taken to it and helped its growth. “It really takes a community willing to support a museum,” he said. This is not the the museum's first outing into hosting a big exhibit and that previous experience can make all the difference. They have had previous exhibits hosting the works of Monet and Rothko. “We’re fortunate in that we have developed a great reputation in the museum world and for doing things right,” South said. For CMA, doing things right will go far into their plans for the future. “We’re gonna have some big shows coming up down the road, they’ll continue,” he said.

Dali’s surrealistic art is the main draw for visiting the exhibit, but South talks about how knowing the man himself adds to the significance of what he tried to accomplish with his art. “He’s a showman! This guy was a self promoter, I mean he knew he was wacky and different and he really was,” South said. His powerful imagination is what made Dali stand out from his contemporaries. “He sort of answered the question 'If you could paint dreams what would they look like?' I mean big question, and he said 'well things look out of place, things change form, but they somehow look realistic,'” he continued.

It is self evident through art today, that Dali’s surrealistic statements still have a hand in the world even several decades after his death. “Dali is one of the cultural barometers of the twentieth century,” South said. “When you think about manga or you think about sci-fi, in a way, you can draw a line back to Dali,” he continued. It is the history element to Dali that South knows still make Dali and his art so vital today. “Students think about history as studying the past, you never are. You’re studying right now, the pieces that got us here, and Dali is one of those big pieces that got us where we are right now.”

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