ST. PETERSBURG — “This is a visit of myself to my past, to (resignify) my own work from the gaze of surrealism. I also visit myself. Dalí and myself.”
Uruguayan-Spanish contemporary artist Yamandú Canosa said this during a recent tour of his solo exhibition “The Visit” at The Dalí Museum, as a crowd of interested patrons gathered to listen to him speak about his work.
The Dalí commissioned Canosa to create this exhibition, for which he visited Port Lligat (also spelled Portlligat), Spain, where Salvador Dalí lived and worked throughout his lifetime. Canosa, who has been living and working in Barcelona since 1975, is a celebrated artist with works in museums worldwide. He was part of a group show at The Dalí in 2006.
“The Visit” is the first solo show for Canosa in a North American museum and was curated by the museum’s chief curator, William Jeffett. It also includes a few key pieces from Dalí.
The exhibition explores the relationship between contemporary art and surrealism, and enforces the idea that surrealism is still alive, but not as a movement. Canosa said it is an homage to the legacy of surrealism.
“People sometimes believe that surrealism is about aesthetic, that there is a style to be surrealist, and that’s not true, because surrealism works through all languages,” Canosa said. He pointed to the work of Joan Miró, Dalí, Marcel Duchamp and Jean Arp, who all had different “languages” but are pioneers of surrealism, which he said is really about freedom.
He said surrealism is still alive and always will be because it’s about language, not a specific style.
Canosa said of his work that he is a landscaper, and that Dalí was also. He not only absorbed what he was looking at every day, but also felt it deeply. He said the best way to visit Dalí was to visit the theater of his imagination.
Surrealism isn’t about making up something imaginary and weird, he said. Rather, it starts with something real. Canosa said this is the key statement of the show. He said that his work is a metaphor that examines the landscape of surrealism.
The exhibition is divided into segments that showcase Canosa’s bodies of work, some very recent and older pieces. You won’t find exhibition labels next to any piece — “the walls are the work, it’s a big system with little systems inside,” he explained — but if you’re interested, diagrams with lists of the titles are provided.
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The Bay of Portlligat section features the works Canosa made for the show after visiting the coastal Spanish region. It features four related 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 fishermen and their nets and corks.
“Tramuntana” reflects the mighty north wind that howls through the region for days and is known to make people crazy. It’s so prevalent that it has become a character in the culture. Through a wall graphic, Canosa chose to pay tribute to the phenomenon because he said in a way it is “the wind of surrealism.”
A horizon line is established throughout that section to mimic Canosa’s gaze and vantage. Works are appropriately hung above, below or on the line based on where the things they depict would be.
Included on the “Tramuntana” wall is Dalí‘s “Anthropomorphic Beach,” made from a fisherman’s cork. It hangs next to 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 depicts a house with a diver swimming inside and a cricket — an insect favored by Dalí — underneath. In “Sa Farnera,” he abstracts a cave in bold red and white with “En la cueva (In the Cave).”
In the section titled “Combat,” Canosa chose works to be in dialogue with Dalí‘s 1955 drawing, “Combat.” With “Fusiles (Rifles),” soldiers are lined up, aiming at each other. In a way, it’s the same man shooting himself, a comment about the cycle of violence. According to a text panel, the inverted map on the bottom of the painting “suggests an alternate geography that undermines the traditional hierarchy of north and south, first world and third world that are suggested in traditional maps.”
The triptych “Solteros (Bachelors)” anchors the “Combat” gallery. It’s inspired by a Duchamp piece based on a waterfall, Las Escaules, located near Figueres that Dalí showed Duchamp. A photo was made of Duchamp there and the waterfall became part of Duchamp’s 1966 exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Canosa visited the site in 2003 with two other artists and took a photo in the same spot.
Canosa’s “Blind Drawings” on paper were made specifically for the exhibition. They’re based on Canosa’s small sculpture of a tree called “Ser (Being)” with a porcelain head dangling from its branches. He challenged himself to draw the object without ever looking at the paper, placing a sheet of carbon over it for further obscurity. He’d also move the piece slightly before he drew. His objective was to focus on gesture, and by relinquishing control, he was able to make images he otherwise would not. This exercise is a very surrealist thing to do, reminiscent of automatic drawings, also known as surrealist automatism.
Canosa’s rich visual vocabulary draws you into his environment and his interpretation of Dalí's. The exhibition effectively pushes surrealism forward and gives a clear understanding of what the movement is really about.
If you go
“The Visit” is on view through Oct. 30. $10-$29, free for children 5 and younger and guests eligible for the Museums for All program. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. every day except Thursday, when the museum is open until 8 p.m. The Dalí Museum, 1 Dalí Blvd. (Bayshore Drive and Fifth Avenue SE), St. Petersburg. 727-823-3767. thedali.org.