That the Spanish painter, film-maker and all (year) round entertainer Salvador Dali was one of the greatest geniuses of the 20th century is a well-known fact. He himself never missed an opportunity to point this out. The good man was never shy about dropping comments such as “At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.” Or: “Every morning when I wake up, I experience an exquisite joy —the joy of being Salvador Dalí— and I ask myself in rapture: What wonderful things is this Salvador Dalí going to accomplish today?”
It's rather sad that during his life Dali had to cope with truckloads of skepticism concerning his self-professed status. And even today many people write him off as a buffoon. Sure, the man could paint, they say, but what has he really added to 20th-century art? He might have created those melting clocks, indeed an iconic image, but then he kept coming back to that again and again – ad nauseam. And sure, he was a figurehead of Surrealism, but he wasn't one of its founding members, nor were his additions to this movement particularly groundbreaking. Estranging, melancholic landscapes – of which Dali painted so many – had already been done by Giorgio di Chirico. The poetic images he placed in these landscapes were often quite crude and not as refined as their creator might have believed them to be.
And what about his artistic integrity? they might say. An artist with such fabulous technical abilities, once part of the most exciting artistic group in the world, had become the king of bling, a caterer of garish kitsch; with his endless parade of plastic paraphernalia, he had paved the way for Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst.
So, yes, people might criticize Dali for these and many other things, but they are missing the point. Dali was more than a mere artist: he was a visionary, blessed with the gift of clairvoyance. This had already become apparent in his 1936 painting 'Self Construction with Boiled Beans', in which two grotesque shapes, that apparently belong to the same monstrosity, are engaged in a vicious struggle with each other, and thus with itself. Dali painted this picture six months before the start of the Spanish civil war, yet, as Dali was quick to point out, this painting is a depiction of the absurdity, cruelty and self-destructive stupidity of the civil war. He swore that the painting had always been a prediction of coming events.
Just as many seers before him, Dali often obscured his prophetic visions behind a façade of banal capriciousness. There is not a more striking example of this than Dali's 1954 work 'Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by the Horns of her own Chastity”. In this work we see a young, naked woman, apparently being driven through an open window into a clear blue sky by a number of flying cylindrical objects that have an uncanny resemblance to dildoes. In the title of the painting Dali has called these dildo-like objects 'horns'. One of the horns is in the exact middle of the painting (and of the girl's body) and appears to be the vessel that's about to engage in the sodomizing referred to in the title.
Contemporary critics and audiences alike condemned the painting as cruel and vulgar. Especially the fact that the painting resembled an earlier work by Dali, in which he had depicted his sister staring out of a window, shocked and repulsed many. Only those who were willing to probe deeper, through and beyond the distasteful and the sleazy whims of this grand jester, would find a prophetic vision.
Probing is what this painting is all about. The horns are set to probe into the young damsel and as this process is unfolding she is liberated. The framework that prevented the girl from lifting off into the blue sky, into an uninhibited space, was a stylized chastity belt. The belt is torn asunder by the horns. Liberated from her chastity she is free to experience the delights of sex. As this piece of art was created in 1954, it prefigured the sexual liberation of the late sixties by some fifteen years. And there is more: Dali shows us a future in which anything is possible, where naked bodies can please themselves with anything they can conjure up. It points to our age, an age of limitless gratification, of virtual reality porn and teledildonics.
Young women auto-sodomizing themselves?! That's our world! Dali knew it and had known it for a long time, which can be concluded from his key work 'the Great Masturbator' which he painted many years before, in 1929. The bizarre rock-like head which features prominently in this painting is actually a self-portrait. So Dali not only predicted the pornographic society of the future, he paved the way for it by taking on the role of sexual liberator: Dali, the Great Masturbator!
Anthony van Hamond
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