Mirror, mirror on the wall
The Freud Museum London, once home to the world’s most famous shrink, celebrates its 30th year with an exhibit called “Self Reflection.” The main feature is British artist Mark Wallinger’s make-over of Freud’s famous study where he saw patients. Wallinger set mirrors over the ceiling, to underscore how patients reclining on the iconic shrink’s couch would see their reflection and reflect on themselves. So far so good.
What’s he doing here?
But it’s a mystery why a museum dedicated to the father of fathoming the unconscious would refer in the exhibit notes to Surrealism, which Freud said had nothing to do with the unconscious. As Meryl Secrest reported in her 1986 biography “Salvador Dali,” when the painter was introduced to Freud in London in 1938, the good doctor told him that while he saw mystery and the search for unconscious idea in Old Master painters like Leonardo, Dali’s mystery was clearly stated: “It is not the unconscious I seek in your pictures, but the conscious.”
Freud later extended the rebuff to all Surrealist painting. In a letter to Andre Breton, leader of the #Art movement, Freud wrote that he wasn’t able to clarify for himself what surrealism is. It should be noted that although Freud was an avid art collector, his tastes ran to the art of Roman, Egyptian and Oriental antiquities rather than modern art. But Dali took Freud’s disparagement as a death sentence for Surrealism, which may account for why he made a drawing of Freud’s head, which he likened to a snail, saying his brain took the form of a spiral “to be extracted with a needle.” Unaccountably, Freud kept the drawing, the only Surrealist work in his collection.
In your dreams
While Surrealism has no place in the Freud Museum, Freud certainly merits a place in a Dali museum, especially since the painter read Freud’s “Interpretation of Dreams” and was greatly influenced by it. Consider the painting “Metamorphosis of Narcissus,” which Dali showed to Freud and which is said to cap Freud’s impact on him. The image is based on the Greek myth of a handsome youth who only has eyes for himself as reflected in a pool of water. As he peered at his reflection into the water, he bent too far over, fell in and drowned. Dali painted the scene with double images and reflections with his usual photo-real technique that he acknowledged was like “hand-painted color photography.” Delusion and fantasy was the point of both the myth and the painting. But who fantasizes in Technicolor with photo-real imagery or as Time magazine put it, “sleek-as-grease craftsmanship”?
Certainly Mark Wallinger mirrored ceiling installation fits in with the work of Freud. But how does Dali’s work fit in? For that matter, Dali didn’t even fit in with his fellow Surrealists. Breton wrote that Dali was more interested in sensationalism for its own sake than in Surrealism. Freud was big on free association, but linking Dali to him abuses the privilege. #Android