LISTEN: Art Institute exhibit explores themes of visibility, disappearance in work of Salvador Dalí

Dali Exhibit
Visitors at “Salvador Dalí: The Image Disappears,” an exhibit at the Art Institute that runs until June 12. (Laura Stewart/MEDILL)

By Laura Stewart
Medill Reports

An exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago is showcasing the work of famed surrealist artist Salvador Dalí. “Salvador Dalí: The Image Disappears,” which opened Feb. 18, features paintings, drawings and other works Dalí created in the 1930s, at the height of the artist’s fame. 



With his images of melting clocks and dreamlike landscapes, Salvador Dalí is one of the most recognizable artists in art history. He is an icon of Surrealism, a 20th century avant garde movement that sought to release the powers of the unconscious mind. The exhibit, “Salvador Dalí: The Image Disappears,” features 50 paintings, sculptures, drawings, collages and books.

Onur Ozturk is an art history professor at Columbia College in Chicago. He says Dalí emerged at a time when the world was captured by the uncertainty of war.

Ozturk: What Dali was reflecting in his paintings during the Spanish Civil War as well as right before the Second World War is so fascinating to capture all of the tension and drama and expectation and anticipation and anxiety. 

Ozturk adds that the conflicting ideas presented in Dalí’s work are reflective of our current political climate.

Ozturk: We shouldn’t just think about this exhibition exclusively as Dalí, obviously it’s highlighting Dalí, but also it’s bringing to our attention the 1930s, which I think is very timely. Some of the polarization that happened around the world in the 1930s and how Dalí reacts to it, in my opinion, is fascinating. 

Dalí has become a controversial figure in recent years. His apparent comfort with the regime of Francisco Franco has drawn criticism. Franco was a Spanish dictator who led the country from 1939 to 1975. Ozturk says the artist was also known to chase fame and financial gain. This made him unpopular with several of his fellow Surrealist artists.

Ozturk: Some of the surrealists were very strict on thinking about surrealism not as a kind of commercial enterprise, which Dalí obviously explored in his later career. 

Dalí is also remembered for his eccentric personality and handlebar mustache. The artist was notoriously self-obsessed. Prior to his death in 1989, Dalí insisted on being buried in his own museum in Spain, which he designed himself as a shrine to his own life. 

The Art Institute seeks to rectify his reputation with “The Image Disappears.” The exhibit is housed on the second floor of the Art Institute. It has drawn in frequent museum-goers, students and visitors from out of town. 

Jessica Cerapa is a member at the Art Institute.

Cerapa: I come to all of the exhibitions that are here. It’s interesting they’re doing a surrealistic exhibit. Usually it’s more impressionist and other things. I really like it. It’s a little bit smaller than I thought it would be compared to the other exhibits that have been here at the Art Institute. But I really like the selections of the paintings that are here.

Aubrey Villagran is a sophomore at Metea Valley High School in suburban Aurora. She says her class came to the exhibit on a field trip. Her favorite painting in the exhibit is one of Dalí’s most famous works, “Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in Their Arms the Skins of an Orchestra,” created in 1936. The painting features three female figures in a desert landscape, holding melting instruments. 

Villagran: It seems the most interesting considering all the things and interpretations we can get from it.

“The Image Disappears” also showcases three other well-known Dalí pieces: “Inventions of the Monsters,” “Venus de Milo with Drawers” and “Mae West’s Face Which May be Used as a Surrealist Apartment.”  

Julie Jensen and her son Edison decided to see the exhibit on their visit to Chicago from Minneapolis. The Jensens, both Dalí fans, are inspired by the quirky nature of the artist’s work. 

Julie Jensen: The colors and just the push, the way he sees things and makes you think of them differently. Something that would be what you think is a fork is no longer a fork. Or a clock that’s no longer a clock. He turns it into something else. That transformation is pretty cool. 

Edison Jensen: He’s poking fun at more classic artists, and I think that’s just the nature of an artist. You have to reinvent what was before you, and he’s definitely doing that with all these pieces. 

The exhibit will be on display through June 12, 2023.

Laura Stewart, Medill Reports. 


Laura Stewart is a graduate student at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter @laurapstew.