High time to see new Dali exhibition in Atlanta

ATLANTA — A new exhibition opening exclusively in Atlanta explores artist Salvador Dali’s late work, including several major pieces that haven’t been seen in the U.S. in half a century.

Dali is best known as a surrealist, his melting watches an iconic image of that movement. But after about 10 years, his relationship with that group grew strained in the late 1930s for a variety reasons both artistic and political. “Salvador Dali: The Late Work,” opening at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta on Saturday, focuses on the period from 1940 to 1983.

“It’s become a really interesting area for investigation because you have Dali’s career which spans almost all of the 20th century, but historically people have really only looked at the 1930s,” said exhibition curator Elliott King. “It was almost like he died in 1940.”

Dali declared himself a classic painter in 1941, and while many critics disparaged his later work as kitsch or too commercial, the general public may not be able to discern much difference between the surrealist period and the later works, King said.

“Even though Dali was defining his work as a radical separation and a lot of critics really began taking that divide up to define late Dali, there are a lot of interesting continuities that kind of work through the whole,” he said.

For that reason, King said, the new exhibition works on multiple levels. For Dali newcomers, it provides an introduction to the deep imagination and showmanship of the Spanish artist. For those who know Dali well, it may challenge perceptions of his later work and provide a glimpse of works not seen before.

The exhibit opens with photos by American photographer Philippe Halsman of the mustachioed artist in crazy poses showcasing what King describes as Dali’s “wacky showman” side. It then moves into some earlier works to give visitors some background.

From there, it progresses to Dali’s exploration of “nuclear mysticism,” which reflects two recurring influences on Dali’s late work — his return to the Catholic Church and nuclear physics.

One of King’s goals with the exhibition was to bring together several significant paintings that haven’t been seen in the U.S. in many decades — or, in some cases, not at all.

“A lot of these paintings are pilgrimage sites of their own,” he said. “I thought if we could get one of them, we’d be in really good shape, and we ended up getting four.”