NEW YORK (Reuters) - Eight decades have passed since Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali and filmmaker Luis Bunuel portrayed a man slicing a woman’s eyeball with a razor — yet viewers still wince, groan and cover their eyes.
The sequence opens the 16-minute film “Un chien andalou” (An Andalusian Dog), which is one several of films running in an infinite loop at a new exhibition called “Dali: Painting and Film” at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York City.
Based on the reactions of a crowd of viewers on Sunday, the scene has not lost its ability to make audiences shudder.
The exhibit, which can be see at MoMa through September 15, is a fascinating collection that brings together some of Dali’s best-known works, usually scattered across museums and private collections around the world, under a single roof.
His nightmarish images still appear fresh in the 21st century — melting clocks, swarms of ants crawling out of an eye socket, bicyclists with baguettes on their heads, a woman whose belly is transformed into a bleeding bouquet of roses.
What is unique about the exhibition is its emphasis on the central role that the new medium of the motion picture played in the aesthetic vision of a young Dali, born in 1904.
“Dali homed in on cinema’s seemingly contradictory ability to combine the real and the surreal, the actual and the imaginary, the objective and the imaginative, the prosaic and the poetic,” said MoMa drawings curator Jodi Hauptman.
“Whether still or moving, painted or shot, Dali’s works are meant to wholly intoxicate their viewers, offering an experience provoked by an image but played out in the mind.”
Despite his avant-gardism, Dali had nothing against mainstream Hollywood. He worked with Alfred Hitchcock on a dream sequence for the 1945 film “Spellbound” and with the Marx Brothers.
Another film playing at MoMa is an animated short Dali worked on in the 1940s with Walt Disney, a psychedelic poem about Chronos, the Greek god of time, and his love for a mortal woman. It was not finished until 2003, long after Dali died.
By viewing Dali’s best known paintings alongside his cinematic endeavors, it is clear how crucial photography and film were for a man widely seen as the second best known artist of the 20th century — after fellow Spaniard Pablo Picasso.
Dali himself was aware of the importance of film for his unique brand of surrealism, which encouraged viewers to see their world differently by stripping objects of their everyday significance, distorting and juxtaposing them with others.
In a letter to French poet and surrealist theorist Andre Breton, Dali said, “I’m in Hollywood where I’ve made contact with the three American Surrealists — Harpo Marx, Disney, and Cecil B. DeMille.”
“I believe I’ve intoxicated them suitably and hope that the possibilities for Surrealism here will become a reality.”
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte