The thematic center of "Dali: Gems" at the Salvador Dali Museum comes from a group of jewelry rarely displayed. It's the glamorous hook, the bling bait. And the jewelry and other objects that are part of this show are a lot of fun though not serious.
"Gems" has a broader context that comes from the real treasures of the museum, the paintings in its permanent collection.
I know, I know. We have all seen the core collection. It's always there.
I believe you can't revisit art often enough. I see permanent collections of bay area museums constantly and always find new revelations in works I think I know well.
But if you need a particular inducement for this show, it's in the slightly gimmicky but clever subtext attached to some of the works.
Dali curators invited a group of celebrities, scholars and other people of note or interest to choose a specific piece of art as a favorite. Wall labels have been affixed next to the work with their photographs and explanations, which range from wacky to wonky. (Most are in that comprehensible middle ground.) It's fun and invites you to articulate your own reasons for preferring one work over another. It's a process we can apply to any art. And in qualifying and quantifying, you'll learn something about yourself.
Several VIPs chose jewelry, and actor and activist Susan Sarandon's reasons for selecting a gold, diamond, ruby and pearl pendant titled Bleeding World are cogent and thoughtful, relating it to environmental issues.
"I loved the illusion that the gold arrow studded with diamonds and pearls seems to be holding the world together. But the irony is that . . . it is the very mining of this gold and diamonds which is destroying the earth. Creation always seems to spring from destruction at some level," she writes.
Dali himself never had in mind global warming or deforestation when he designed it, of course. For him it was mostly commercial venture. But artists' intentions and viewers' interpretations have never had to jibe.
Brad Morse, son of the museum's founders, Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, and now a museum trustee, is partial to the gold telephone pin because "Dali often incorporated the telephone into the themes of his paintings. It is a prominent part of Daddy Longlegs of the Evening — Hope!, the first painting my parents purchased. I remember my parents explaining to me its significance . . ."
If I could, I would also ask Morse if he remembers his mother wearing the pin. Her husband bought most of the jewelry as gifts for her, according to longtime curator Joan Kropf, and she wore them often.
Rocker Alice Cooper, weighing in on First Cylindric Chromo-Hologram of Alice Cooper's Brain, contributes: "One of the greatest Artistic Experiences of My Life. Dali was my hero." The comment is beside the 1973 hologram Dali designed in which Cooper, bare-chested, wears several million dollars in jewelry from Harry Winston, including a tiara, while using a replica of Dali's Venus de Milo as a microphone while a plaster brain floats nearby. It's more a hoot than art and I could wish for less solemnity about it from Cooper, more Daliesque wit.
Cheap Trick's Robin Zander (who lives in the Tampa Bay area) offered this comment to accompany Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in Their Arms the Skins of an Orchestra:
" 'Well I can't stop the music. I could stop it before. Now I don't want to hear it. Don't want to hear it no more.' These lyrics are from a song Cheap Trick recorded in the early 1980s called Stop This Game. Without music in our being even the instruments themselves would be an empty shell."
This isn't a deep reading of Dali's famous painting, missing the charged sexual references and symbolism in the women whose heads are balls of flowers and who have "castrated" their musical instruments.
Nor does Columba Bush, former first lady of Florida, get to the heart of Velazquez Painting the Infanta Marguerita With the Lights and Shadows of His Own Glory in saying "it is the image of innocence, power, knowledge, kindness and the great virtues of angels." Dali is rewriting art history in this work and kindness has nothing to do with it.
But you know what?
That's my opinion.
I'm gassing on here about my quibbles with others' takes on the art because they aren't the same as mine.
Which is my point about this show. If you nod your head in agreement with the contributors, good. If you bristle because you find other ideas in the art, just as good.
All this has me thinking about which work I would choose as a favorite. I'm still undecided.
So the show is like a conversation, even an argument. The opinions you form may be different but they will be yours. And, in a way, so will the art.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8293.