It may come as a surprise, but the Menil Collection—which houses an extensive and oft visited surrealist exhibit—only carries one item from the emperor of surrealism, Salvador Dalí. But starting next Thursday, Nov. 5, the Montrose art house doubles its Dalí collection with a mind-bending painting filled with classic nods and iconography from the artist, 1932’s Oeufs sur le Plat sans le Plat (Eggs on a Plate without the Plate).
The eerie painting, part of The Secret of the Hanging Egg exhibition, is meta-Dalí festooned with hidden messages, Freudian overtones, dripping watches—pretty much everything you saw on every dorm room wall in college or heard about from that one girl you dated who was really into early 90s fashion and obscure, unheard of indie-electronica. Bringing Eggs—on loan from the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida—to Houston was a passion piece for assistant curator Clare Elliott.
“I chose it because it’s not a super familiar one… It has enough that’s unexpected and enough that you’ve seen at different times,” Elliott mentions, looking over a print of the painting (en route during our chat) dreamily. She runs her hand over the image, pointing out Dalí’s signature motifs: a ghostly backdrop, an egg suspended by a string that has no source and a gaggle of intrauterine memories that Dalí was obsessed with. He often spoke of time inside the womb and even posed nude in the fetal position for photographer Philippe Halsman.
Elliott is a disciple of sorts, part of the long-dead artist’s posthumous public relations team, in a way, with a goal to shed not a different light, but another light on the publicly flamboyant painter.
“Dalí’s a controversial artist, so it’s nice to open that conversation a bit,” she says. “I think it’s a way to liven up, to offer something unexpected. It’s a new experience for people who return. It’s a chance to see something they haven’t seen and puts our surrealism collection into a new context.”
The painting was done at a time in Dalí’s life when surrealism was gaining traction in Paris, his adopted city. A cross-pollination of influence was happening on the scene as artists congregated and shared ideas including Man Ray and Max Ernst. Dalí’s friendship with a leader of surrealism, André Breton, blossomed, only to be dashed in the following years. The two differed politically, or, at least, Dalí wasn’t as interested in politics as Breton.
“Breton is interested in what [Dalí’s] doing and they collaborate on a number of publications. Breton writes the introduction to Dalí’s first show in Paris, so they’re very much collaborating,” Elliott says. And just like every friendship that hits the skids—“[Dalí’s] more interested in art. So they split. And Breton denounces everything Dalí does after 1936.” Ice cold, Breton. Ice cold. It's like the modern-day equivalent of blocking someone on Instagram and Facebook.
But Dalí kept his relationships with other painters and artists congenial, some of which will be on display at the exhibit. Elliott creates “a mini-exhibition within the surrealism galleries to give the paintings some context” and also features examples of Dalí’s contributions to early publications, like his correspondence to papers back in Barcelona commenting on the surrealist movement in Paris. Just don’t expect any Breton.
Nov 5–June 19. Menil Collection, 1533 Sul Ross St. 713-525-9400. menil.com