Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hello Dali!

OK, so your Radical is in convention recovery, in St. Petersburg Florida, by a pool. All I can say to everybody up north is: Nyah, nyah.

Just kidding.

OK -- so part of the package is that I am in temporary charge of a three year old nephew. Big deal. He's a sweet boy with a lovely smile. And, after an hour or so at a splendid playground and park by the water, he agreed to accompany me to the Salvador Dali Museum. I have been waiting approximately twenty years to get someone to do this with me, since surrealist art is never on the top of our agenda when we are visiting relatives who don't see us much. But this morning, it was just me and the boy. So of course I jumped on the opportunity to take advantage of a companion who a) must do what I say, no matter what; b) has a pleasant disposition; and c) has a tendency to say "yes," "no" or "OK" when you ask him a question. Hence, you have a 66.33% chance of total agreement to any activity.

"Want to go to the Salvador Dali Museum?" I said.

"Okay," he said.

And we were off. We went through at his speed, which is a fast trot. It is my opinion that viewing art at the child's pace, even if you are wearing trifocals and need a second or two more than he gives you to focus, is one good way not to ruin museums for him. As a counter example, my parents used to saunter through them at a leisurely, thoughtful walk, discussing the paintings one by one, as though they were in a group entirely made up of adults. Needless to say, being treated as an equal has other advantages, but this, I found, was not one of them. My sister and I became adept at standing in front of Major Works looking as though we were thinking Deep Thoughts about them, but we were secretly bored out of our minds. I never enjoyed art at all until my twenties, when I started gallery hopping with a gay man who would literally go through SoHo at a dead run, stopping only for an occasional vodka.

If you are in the St. Pete area, and you haven't been to the Dali Museum, go, and if you are with a child, double-go: I think it's a great little museum, and of course surrealist paintings make no sense, so they are kind of more intriguing for kids than realist art. In addition, right now the museum has an exhibit of surrealist paintings, sculptures and drawings done by school children in the community that is really very impressive. I mean, the work is impressive, but they also obviously have some great art teachers working in this city.

And you can get a fabulous foam Salvador Dali clock, where the 12 and the 6 wag back and forth, for only twenty dollars. My nephew now has one, although he will need a more conventional time piece to learn to tell time -- one where all the numbers are actually lined up on an axis, for example. Even I can't tell what time it is on that clock. We also have a book for children on The Life and Work of Salvador Dali. My favorite page says "Salvador was expelled from art school in Madrid because he caused trouble. In Paris he met a Russian girl called Gala. She became a model and then his wife." What they don't tell you in the book is that he was expelled because he announced that his teachers were not competent to examine him; that he was a big Franco-phile; and that Gala was married to someone else when she became his "model." Details, details. We should all be writing children's books.

But, since I would agree with the editors' view that three year olds are a little young for conversations about fascism or adultery, I would actually support the central historical argument here, which is:

Causing Trouble ---> Spectacular Artistic Career.

Finally, I want to take this opportunity of a relative lull in the academic schedule to introduce you to Historiann, a newish blogger doing a dynamite job, who is now on my blogroll. Click now for some historical context on Gloria Steinem's recent remarks about the relative weight of racism and sexism in the Democratic primaries. Historiann ain't buying it. She also led me to this pithy commentary on Happy Jihad's House of Pancakes.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, TR, for the plug. I've never considered it before, but surrealism is of course best viewed with the preschool set. The whole world is somewhat surreal to most 3-year olds, they're masters at imaginative play, and very open to contemplating alternative realities. But, yes, the complexities of biography are probably best deferred until jr. high school.

Sisyphus said...

OMG there's a Salvador Dali museum!?!?! Why did I not know this?

Quick Jeeves, to the car!

Bardiac said...

What a GREAT idea for an outing!

Susan said...

I had a student who was an artist and art historian; her husband said that going through museums with her was a revelations: she went quite quickly, and only stopped at two or three pieces to really look at things that were interesting. The rest didn't interest her.