Tuesday 22 October 2019

Ireland's largest exhibition of Salvador Dalí sculpture to date opens tomorrow


Salvador Dali
Salvador Dali
Museum pieces: Among the larger pieces at the exhibition are Dance of Time III (1984)
Lady Godiva with Butterflies (1984)

Eleanor Flegg

'There are some days when I think I'm going to die from an overdose of satisfaction," said the legendary artist Salvador Dalí. He died in 1989 (from pneumonia, not satisfaction) but the supply of his sculpture to market is still going strong. Posthumous sculpture has been cast before, notably of works by Degas and Rodin. But no artist has known such a proliferation of production from beyond the grave as Dalí.

There's always been an immortal aspect to Dalí, who requested that his body be embalmed to last for 300 years. This was put to the test in 2017 when his body was disinterred to settle a paternity claim. The exhumation revealed that he seemed mummified "like wood" and that his famous moustache was still in place and arrayed at 'ten to ten' just as he always liked it.

During his lifetime, Dalí was known as a surrealist painter, rather than a sculptor. His most famous painting, The Persistence of Memory (1931), is often known as the Melting Clocks. It's now in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. But, since his death, Dalí sculpture has become a multi-million-euro industry.

"Collectors love the Dalí sculptures," says Oliver Gormley, gallerist. "They feel that they're timeless." Then he laughs. The Dance of Time series, featuring the famous melting clocks, is hugely popular. One of the attractions is its instant recognisability. If you've got a melting clock in your living room, everyone will know that it's a Dalí.

Lady Godiva with Butterflies (1984)
Lady Godiva with Butterflies (1984)

Gormley Fine Art is the organiser of Art in the Garden, Ireland's largest exhibition of Dalí sculpture to date, which opens tomorrow at the Culloden Estate, Belfast, following a two-week run in Russborough in Co Wicklow.

The exhibition is by no means confined to Dalí - it includes an impressive line-up of indoor and outdoor sculpture by Irish and international artists - but the 14 Dalí sculptures have proved a massive draw.

When I speak to Gormley he's on his way to Belfast to set up the show, slightly anxious because eight of the Dalí sculptures have already been sold. He obviously wasn't expecting that kind of appetite from Irish collectors and is awaiting delivery of eight more sculptures from the Dalí Universe in Switzerland. This, of course, is the glory of sculpture. You can always have another one cast.

Bronze is almost always cast in multiples, like limited edition prints. The Dalí Universe, the best known publisher of Dalí­ sculpture, produce 29 Dalí­ sculptures in three small sizes in editions of 350, plus 35 artist's proofs, each in three different patinas. Art in the Garden includes 12 of these. They range in price from Space Elephant (1980), which is 65cm high and costs €29,000 to Dance of Time I (1984), which is 38.5cm high and costs €15,250. All of the Dance of Time series are melting clocks; Space Elephant is a spindly-legged pachyderm.

There are two larger "museum" pieces by Dalí in the exhibition Dance of Time III (1984), 124cm high (€440,000), and Lady Godiva with Butterflies (1984), 167 cm high (€495,000). The eight pieces that sold at Russborough were of the smaller size and all of them went to private collections.

The Dalí Universe is one of 10 publishers who produce Dalí's sculpture on the basis of contracts with the artist or his representative. There have been many disputes over who is authorised to make what, so the collector needs to tread carefully here. The auction houses are even more cautious, to the extent that the market for late Dalí­ sculptures is hard to predict.

Another issue with posthumous Dalí sculpture is that there are many undocumented versions available. For example, eBay is currently offering a "Salvador Dali Space Elephant Museum Quality Artwork Surrealist Bronze Statue Art" for US$197.40 (€174.88). This is unlikely to mislead anyone, but some of the Chinese foundries are producing unauthorised Dalí sculptures that looks almost indistinguishable from the real thing. The online retailer Alibaba has a fine selection including an "Art Outdoor Theme Park Metal Copper Craft Statue Bronze Salvador Dali Clock Sculpture" for $3,500 to $4,900 (€3,100 to €4,341). It's probably a decent piece of sculpture, but is it a work by Salvador Dalí? Only by the widest stretch of the imagination.

It's not always clear how deeply Dalí was involved in the creation of the authorised sculpture either. An article published in Art News in 2012 pointed out that: "The documents show that the aging Dalí and his wife were willing to sell rights to virtually anything, including Dalí's signature, to fund their lavish lifestyle, usually for one-time payments in cash and sometimes artist's proofs of the sculptures created. The couple's business managers, meanwhile, sold additional rights after the artist's death." But the enthusiasm for his work continues unabated and, in many ways, the complexity of the Dalí myth is all part of the fun.

Gormley also notes the popularity of Irish sculpture. "I'd point people towards Bob Quinn, Ian Pollock and Anthony Scott in particular," he says.

"We have a beautiful greyhound by Scott, over a metre high, but it's still in the foundry. I've seen it, but I haven't seen it patinated." Like all Scott's work, the greyhound is inspired by Irish legend, which may be a more straightforward way of investing in mythology.

The Culloden Hotel has a range of Art in the Garden packages for guests, but entrance to the exhibition is free. See hastingshotels.com/culloden-estate-and-spa; gormleys.ie; russborough.ie; thedaliuniverse.com.

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