Surreal and spec­tac­u­lar

Mas­sive Santiago El Grande an awe-in­spir­ing greet­ing for vis­i­tors to the Win­nipeg Art Gallery’s Dali ex­hi­bi­tion

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ARTS - By Alan Small

SAL­VADOR Dali’s paint­ing Santiago El Grande took Stephen Bo­rys’s breath away when the di­rec­tor and CEO of the Win­nipeg Art Gallery saw it for the first time. “You walk in the main door and there it is in the main hall. It blows you away,” he said, re­mem­ber­ing a visit to its per­ma­nent home, the Beaver­brook Art Gallery in Fred­er­ic­ton, N.B. “You say, ‘Wow!’ and your jaw drops.” When movers fi­nally hung the mas­sive mas­ter­work in a spe­cial chapel the WAG set up for its view­ing, Bo­rys’s emo­tions were quite dif­fer­ent. “Huge re­lief,” he said, let­ting out a sigh. The WAG is one of the few gal­leries in the world that has the req­ui­site height and the artis­tic weight to carry off Santiago El Grande, which mea­sures more than four me­tres tall and three me­tres in width. If the leg­endary paint­ing is lain flat, it’s far larger than a reg­u­la­tion-sized snooker ta­ble. And far, far more ex­pen­sive, should some­thing go wrong. “We knew the Dali chapel had the ceil­ing height, but we didn’t know ex­actly how it would look like in the space,” said WAG cu­ra­tor An­drew Kear. The movers ac­tu­ally un­crated the paint­ing in another room, Kear said, and then car­ried it about 30 me­tres into the Dali chapel. “It’s so big it has a ten­dency to twist, and the last thing you want to do is to twist it and dam­age it,” he said. Mov­ing and hang­ing the gi­ant paint­ing is only one of the many phys­i­cal, bu­reau­cratic and fi­nan­cial hur­dles the WAG had to clear in or­der to bring its twin ex­hibits, Dali Up Close and Mas­ter­works of the Beaver­brook Art Gallery, to Win­nipeg. They open tonight at 8 p.m., as part of Nuit Blanche, the city’s all-night cel­e­bra­tion of the arts, and re­main on dis­play un­til Jan. 25, 2015. Nat­u­rally, there is height­ened se­cu­rity that’s needed when­ever price­less art­works are shown. Guards aren’t just to scare away po­ten­tial Thomas Crown types — they also make sure crowds keep their dis­tance and en­sure gallery room tem­per­a­tures re­main sta­ble and don’t dam­age the paint­ings. “When we get a show this im­por­tant, we have to meet all th­ese con­di­tions,” Bo­rys said. One of the big­gest fi­nan­cial ob­sta­cles was the copy­right costs that con­fronted the gallery. Dali, who died in 1989, knew his art had value, and he added to his brand with end­less ef­forts of self­pro­mo­tion, whether through mag­a­zine cov­ers, ad­ver­tise­ments or col­lab­o­ra­tions with Hol­ly­wood film direc­tors like Al­fred Hitch­cock, Kear said. Dali then es­tab­lished the Fun­da­cio GalaSal­vador Dali, a foun­da­tion that over­sees the Dali copy­right. It plays a sig­nif­i­cant role in any ex­hi­bi­tion that in­cludes works by the Span­ish sur­re­al­ist. “If we want to buy an ad, they have to ap­prove ev­ery proof,” Bo­rys said. “And even the word ‘Dali.’ You can’t even use the word when­ever you want.” Ne­go­ti­a­tions and de­tails of the Dali Up Close ex­hibit — which in­cludes the sur­re­al­ist Re­morse (1931), the nu­clear mys­ti­cism work The Madonna of Port Lli­gat (1949) and the Philippe Hals­man pho­to­graphic col­lab­o­ra­tions with Dali — cer­tainly got the foun­da­tion’s at­ten­tion, Bo­rys said, and led to a cut rate on the Dali copy­right. “That sent a mes­sage to them that they were deal­ing with a se­ri­ous show,” Bo­rys said. “(But) the copy­right costs are still in the thou­sands of dol­lars.” Dali fin­ished paint­ing Santiago El Grande in 1957, in time for it to be shown at the World’s Fair in Brussels, Bel­gium. It was pur­chased by Sir James Dunn and Lady Dunn shortly af­ter­ward, and was do­nated to the Beaver­brook gallery along with three other Dali paint­ings that are also part of the Mas­ter­works of the Beaver­brook Art Gallery ex­hi­bi­tion at the WAG. To de­scribe it as a de­pic­tion of St. James, the pa­tron saint of Spain, rid­ing a gi­ant white horse and emerg­ing from the sea while hold­ing Je­sus on the cross as if he were bran­dish­ing a sword, is like say­ing the Mona Lisa is a por­trait of a smil­ing woman. It’s the qual­ity of the brush­work that makes Santiago El Grande, so grand, says Bo­rys. “It’s im­pos­si­ble that you won’t be im­pressed.”

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