Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Salvador Dalí: Self-Promotion, Madness, Genius, Hucksterism & Fakery...

"Dalí and I: Exposing the Dark Circus of the International Art Market" is a book devoted to the thesis that self-promotion, hucksterism and fakery are the only way to get ahead. They were certainly the basis of author Stan Lauryssens’s career, when he graduated in the Seventies from pasting together fake interviews with Hollywood stars for a Belgian magazine to flogging fake pictures by the biggest fake of all: Salvador Dalí.

When he enters the art world, Lauryssens knows little about his golden goose, except that Dalí means money. As the months pass, and he disposes of works of ever-decreasing quality for ever-increasing prices, he realizes the Dalí market rests on a gigantic con: thousands of works are being certified that cannot possibly be by Dalí.

In one instance, he buys a stack of prints from one of Dalí’s authorized dealers, only to discover that they are unsigned. When he returns the next day, Dalí’s signature is on every one.

Eventually, the titanic swindle, in which Lauryssens has only a small role, unravels, along with his extravagant lifestyle. And it is here that the book gets most interesting. After a cursory imprisonment, and a dark night of the soul that features some hilariously overwrought writing – “I was a fox in a trap. For the fox, the trap means death” – Lauryssens hightails it to his girlfriend in Catalonia. Here he finds himself both a neighbour of Dalí, and on the periphery of his circle, at last able to winkle out some of the truth.

And that truth is a sad business. Originally, Dalí seems to Lauryssens like a mad genius, a showman whose career is a cheerfully orchestrated fraud on the world, whether it be signing blank canvasses, ordering muses to drink his urine “to raise your genius level”, or hosting orgies based around demands for “2,000 live ants, four transvestites, a white Arabian stallion, 300 dead grasshoppers, four dwarfs, four giants and the suit of armour of Jeanne d’Arc”.

But the real Dalí is more pitiable – not just because of the crippled state in which Lauryssens finds him on their one meeting, but because of how he has become a prisoner of his greed and pathologies, to the extent that, according to Lauryssens, he maintained a “secret studio” of artists who did virtually every work of his final decades. Even Dali's moustache was a fraud: hair extensions wrapped around drinking straws.

In an interview with The Herald newspaper, Lauryssens says he believes the famous painting " Christ of St John on the Cross " was in fact painted by one of Dali's assistants. He claims Dali did not have the artistic skill to paint the image of the body of Christ. “If you look at Christ of St John on the Cross, you can see that it is made by two different people. It's basically two different paintings. The part below, the seascape – that is 100 per cent Dali. But on top you have Christ seen from above – that is not a Salvador Dali painting. It was painted by others because Dali couldn’t paint living flesh.” Lauryssens says he’s even seen film that shows an assistant drawing the life model who appears as Christ in Dali’s masterpiece. But art critics and the painting’s owners, Glasgow City Council – which bought the painting now estimated to be worth upwards of £60m for a bargain £8,200 – have rubbished Lauryssens’s claims.

It is sensational stuff, fantastic in every sense. And whether it is fact or fiction, it seems to capture two essential truths about Dalí: both his work and life could mean anything and everything, and that there is always a more astonishing story around the corner.

-Robert Colvile (Book Review: "Dalí and I: Exposing the Dark Circus of the International Art Market," Telegraph UK, 2.17.09. Image: -Salvador Dalí, "Christ Of Saint John On The Cross," Glasgow Museum, Scotland, 1951).


Sheilanagig said...

Always something unique and interesting on your blog. Like discovering what flavor is inside a chocolate in a box. Your mind must be an exotic place indeed.

Your blog is looking really good.

All the best and good luck.


Lili said...

I love Dali's devotion and love of his wife. He is one of my favs. Max Ernst and Cassat being number 1 - shared.

Jay Zuck said...

A fantastic tale, but I have always been a fan of Dali. It is not news to me that all great masters had assistants, but this was a fascinating review to read.

micci cohan said...

I am reading Dali & I, by Stan Lauryssens right now. It is such an outstanding read! I don't want it to ever end. Anyone intrigued by Dali, should pick this book up A.S.A.P.and Your review was great! Thanks!

Micci Cohan

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