ST. PETERSBURG – “This is a visit of myself to my past to (relabel) my own work from the perspective of surrealism. I also visit myself. Dalí and I.”
Uruguayan-Spanish contemporary artist Yamandú Canosa said as much during a recent tour of his solo exhibition The Visit at the Dalí Museum, when a crowd of interested guests gathered to listen to him talk about his work.
The Dalí commissioned Canosa to create this exhibition, e.g which he visited Port Lligat (also spelled Portlligat) in Spain, where Salvador Dalí lived and worked throughout his life. Canosa, who has lived and worked in Barcelona since 1975, is an acclaimed artist with works in museums worldwide. In 2006 he was part of a group exhibition at The Dalí.
The Visit is Canosa’s first solo exhibition at a North American museum and was curated by the museum’s chief curator, William Jeffett. It also contains some key pieces by Dalí.
The exhibition explores the relationship between contemporary art and surrealism, reinforcing the idea that surrealism is still alive, but not as a movement. Canosa said it pays homage to Surrealism’s legacy.
“People sometimes think that surrealism is about aesthetics, that there’s a style of being surrealistic, and that’s not true because surrealism works in all languages,” Canosa said. He pointed to the work of Joan Miró, Dalí, Marcel Duchamp and Jean Arp, all of whom had different “languages” but were pioneers of surrealism, which he believes is really about freedom.
He said surrealism is still alive and always will be because it’s about language, not a particular style.
Canosa said of his work that he was a landscape designer and so was Dalí. He not only absorbed what he saw every day, he also felt it deeply. He said the best way to visit Dalí is to visit the theater of his imagination.
Surrealism isn’t about inventing something imaginary and weird, he said. Rather, it begins with something real. Canosa said that was the show’s key message. He said his work is a metaphor examining the landscape of surrealism.
The exhibition is divided into segments showing Canosa’s work, some very recent and some older pieces. You won’t find exhibition labels next to any piece – “The walls are the work, it’s a big system with small systems in it,” he explained – but if you’re interested, diagrams listing the titles are provided.
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The Portlligat Bay section features the works Canosa created for the exhibition after visiting the Spanish coast. It consists of four contiguous sections: “Sa Farnera”, a small island that closes the bay where Dalí’s house was located; “Casa” for Dalí’s house; and “Playa” for the beach and the lifestyle of the fishermen with their nets and corks.
“Tramuntana” reflects the powerful north wind that howls through the region for days and is known to drive people insane. It’s so prevalent that it’s become a character in culture. Through a mural, Canosa decided to pay tribute to the phenomenon, saying in a way it was “the wind of surrealism”.
A horizon line is established in this section to mimic Canosa’s gaze and vista. The works are hung accordingly above, below or on the line, depending on where the things depicted would be located.
On the “Tramuntana” wall is Dalí’s “anthropomorphic beach”, made out of a fisherman’s cork. It hangs alongside Canosa’s recent painting, Inestable al sol (Unstable in the Sun), which shares forms with Dalí’s piece.
In “Casa,” Canosa’s bright coral painting shows a house in which a diver swims and beneath it a cricket – an insect favored by Dalí. In “Sa Farnera” he abstracts a cave in strong red and white with “En la cueva (In the Cave)”.
In the section titled Combat, Canosa selected works intended to dialogue with Dalí’s 1955 drawing Combat. In “Fusiles (Rifles)” soldiers are lined up and aim at each other. In a way, it’s the same man shooting himself, a commentary on the cycle of violence. According to a text panel, the inverted map at the bottom of the painting “suggests an alternative geography that undermines the traditional hierarchy of North and South, First World and Third World suggested in traditional maps.”
The “Solteros (Bachelors)” triptych anchors the “Combat” gallery. It is inspired by a Duchamp play based on a waterfall, Las Escaules, near Figueres, which Dalí showed Duchamp. A photograph of Duchamp was taken there and the waterfall became part of Duchamp’s 1966 exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Canosa visited the site with two other artists in 2003 and took a photograph at the same location.
Canosa’s “Blind Drawings” on paper were made especially for the exhibition. They are based on Canosa’s small sculpture of a tree called “Ser (essence)” with a porcelain head dangling from its branches. He challenged himself to draw the object without ever looking at the paper and placed a sheet of charcoal over it for further obscuration. He also moved the piece slightly before drawing. His goal was to focus on gestures, and by relinquishing control he was able to take pictures he wouldn’t otherwise take. This exercise is very surrealistic and resembles automatic drawing, also known as surrealistic automatism.
Canosa’s rich visual vocabulary draws you into his surroundings and his interpretation of Dalí’s. The exhibition effectively pushes Surrealism forward and gives a clear understanding of what this movement is really about.
when you go
The Visit runs through October 30th. $10-$29, free for children 5 and under and guests participating in the Museums for All program. 10am-6pm daily except Thursdays when the museum is open until 8pm The Dalí Museum, 1 Dalí Blvd. (Bayshore Drive and Fifth Avenue SE), St. Petersburg. 727-823-3767. thedali.org.