ST. PETERSBURG — "Picasso/Dalí, Dalí/Picasso" at the Dalí Museum will be the first exhibition in the world that allows a direct comparison between two of the 20th century's greatest artists. That most of the 75 works will be paintings, many from prestigious lenders, will make it both a huge visitor draw and a scholarly show. Some have never traveled to the United States.
The show, opening Nov. 8, will examine rare new territory in the careers of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. Picasso (1881–1973) and Dalí (1904-1989) first met in 1926 in Paris when the latter was in his early 20s and star-struck by the famous, older artist Picasso.
"We tend to mythologize them today, but they were real people who were driven by the same historical forces," said Hank Hine, director of the Dalí, at a news conference Monday during which new details emerged about the show announced last week in New York.
One of those forces was the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, which tore their homeland apart. They painted searing responses to it, considered among their finest works: Picasso's Guernica (1937) and Dalí's Premonition of Civil War (1936). They're too fragile to travel to the Dalí Museum but will be represented by detailed preliminary drawings each created. Both artists admired Diego Velázquez, also Spanish and a giant of 17th century art, and their interpretations are another example of the exhibition's side-by-side arrangement.
A coup for this exhibition was getting so many paintings and choice ones at that, including a portrait of Picasso's first wife, Olga Khokhlova, loaned from the Picasso family, and the artist's last self-portrait. Museums and collectors don't want to take beloved paintings off their own walls. Not only are they missed by patrons, they are vulnerable to damage even with the most professional handling. Artists of the caliber of these makes borrowing even more challenging so we see in general lots of less valuable works such as prints, especially in Picasso shows.
Even so, Picasso and Dalí have been celebrated in hundreds of shows since their deaths and curators have been especially interested in pairing Picasso with his contemporaries. Probably the most famous was "Matisse Picasso" at the Museum of Modern Art in 2003.
Hine said that this exhibition, too, "will contribute new knowledge and new human experiences, (give us) new understanding in placing them together."
The show has been more than 10 years in the making, he said, because turnovers at several European museums meant that negotiations had to be revised numerous times.
Though always popular with collectors, Dalí's reputation languished in many critical circles for several decades before and after his death because he embraced commercial projects and had a penchant for outlandish, self-promoting behavior. New revisionist studies of the work of his middle and late years have burnished his reputation and resulted in important international surveys and retrospectives in which the Dalí Museum has participated.
The museum has one of the choicest, and certainly the most comprehensive collection of his career in the world. It has decades-long relationships with major museums to lend and borrow, so the Dalí had the clout to co-organize the show with the Museu Picasso in Barcelona.
A joint show of the two artists could have been assembled just from the extensive collections of the Dalí and the museum in Barcelona, but the specific focus of it necessitated borrowing art that addressed common themes, imagery and materials used to very different effect. Lenders include the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris; the Ontario Gallery of Art in Canada; the Menil Collection in Houston; the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid; and the Picasso family.
The exhibition should generate record attendance. The Dalí began 2014 with another powerhouse show featuring works by Andy Warhol, which runs through April 27. A museum spokesperson said its visitor numbers are up at least 40 percent since the exhibit opened in January but could not provide specific figures.
After "Picasso/Dalí, Dalí/Picasso" ends Feb. 16, it will move to the Museu Picasso from March to June, its only other venue.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8293.