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Your Work Is Deeply Repugnant to Us

Post #1483 • December 28, 2011, 1:45 PM • 9 Comments

Meredith Etherington-Smith, from The Persistence of Memory: A Biography of Dalí, quoted by Robert Greene, in The 33 Strategies of War:

[Salvador Dalí] had no time for those who did not agree with his principles and took the war into the enemy camp by writing insulting letters to many of the friends he had made in the Residencia, calling them pigs. He happily compared himself to a clever bull avoiding the cowboys and generally had a great deal of fun stirring up and scandalizing almost every Catalan intellectual worthy of the the name. Dalí was beginning to burn his bridges with the zeal of an arsonist. ...

"We [Dalí and Brunuel] had resolved to send a poison pen letter to one of the great celebrities of Spain," Dalí later told his biographer Alain Bosquet. "Our goal was pure subversion. ... Both of us were strongly influenced by Nietzsche. ... We hit upon two names: Manuel de Falla, the composer, and Juan Ramón Jiménez, the poet. We drew straws and Jiménez won. ... So we composed a frenzied and nasty letter of incomparable violence and addressed it to Juan Ramón Jiménez. It read: 'Our Distinguished Friend: We believe it is our duty to inform you—disinterestedly—that your work is deeply repugnant to us because of its immorality, its hysteria, its arbitrary quality. ...' It caused Jiménez great pain."



Walter Darby Bannard

December 28, 2011, 6:39 PM

Dalí was a jerk and a lousy painter. I met him once, In Trader Vic's of all places, in the old Plaza. He seemed either drunk or doped or just senile, and took interest only in the young women in my party.

Hey, everyone. Let's get this blog going. I don't want to sit here talking to Franklin. We can do that any time.



December 28, 2011, 9:41 PM

Of course all are welcome to comment, but that's okay if the new version of the blog is quieter. Site traffic has been astonishingly heavy. People are reading. And exciting things are on the way.


Walter Darby Bannard

December 28, 2011, 11:35 PM

Well, glad to hear they've been reading, but we've got to stir things up a little - a little heated discussion gets the juices flowing. I'd hate to see this blog deteriorate into the kind of perpetual Valentine's Day of mutual massage the other art blogs (and chats, and facebooks, and tweety twitters) seem to favor.


Rob Willms

December 29, 2011, 2:08 AM

Within Canada's current art-climes, there are certain "great celebrities" upon whom I'd wish Dalí's same sentiments—and about whom I've heard much worse—but privately. Publicly, I can't be sure, but I think it may be, maybe, best not to even accord them the honour of reaction. Although, admittedly, swallowing their constantly published and republicized fame and acclaim leaves me gagging on no small bit of reflux. If there were only an art antacid on the market... Arta-Seltzer or Pepto-Aesthetol, or something.


Walter Darby Bannard

December 29, 2011, 1:14 PM

Rob, in the '80s, in peevish articles in ARTS magazine, I railed at the indignities and failings of the art world, but now, having survived, if not prospered, for many decades in this business, I recognize that our culture insists on a kind of hierarchical structure which puts mediocre art on top in its current time while it nurses along the best art for the future.

I can say this with some confidence because I have actually seen it happen. If you went back to the '40s you might see, for example, Magic Realist Darryl Austin, or Social realist Ben Shahn, Or American Scene painter John Steuart Curry as the top dogs. I believe it was in the early '50s that Alfred Barr, head of MoMA, declared Shahn the best living American painter.

In the '50s we all seethed at the overwhelming reverence paid to the postwar School of Paris: Soulages, Bazaine, Manessier, Mathieu, Poliakoff, Bissiere, Lanskoy, Aleschinsky, De Segonzac, Pascin. They were seen and collected everywhere. How many of those names do you recognize? Now, of course, we see the '40s as the evolution and triumph of the Abstract Expressionists we were pulling for and being influenced by way back when others were on the ascendant.

One caveat to all this, of course, is a change wrought by the now massive size of the art business itself, which has created a kind of inertial resistance to change which keeps weak artists like Johns and Warhol at the top of the market for too long. This is frustrating, of course, but at least we can be heartened by the fact that there is a huge and growing amount of attention and money out there going into art.

As R. Crumb so nobly put it: "Keep on truckin!"


David Richardson

December 30, 2011, 2:12 PM

Great as always to read your comments, Darby. On your School of Paris list, Pascin was a favorite of my teacher (he was Japanese), and became one of my favorites for his figure drawing. I've seen Pascins in Upper East Side apartments—now it makes sense.

How about that deKooning show? We just saw it. I found it very moving and personal, probably because he was still painting strongly when I was a student, and was still very influential among my pals who painted (in the early '70s), though his rep was sinking in the larger art world, I guess. So many paintings I knew only in reproduction seemed fresh and strong. The 8 or 10 black abstractions from '46-'48 or so were powerful together. I had only seen MOMA's painting live. The Woman paintings looked especially muddy. Door to the River and Rosy-Fingered Dawn were brilliant together. It was a great hanging too. The work sank at the end with the ribbon paintings, but still there were two in that last room that were complex and beautiful with underpainting and clear, strong lines. I think he had it almost to the end, which is fascinating to us as we are living with Alzheimer's in our family and evidently the aesthetic sensibility is the last to leave. Fascinating to see those pinks, greens and ochres carrying through from the earliest work to near the end. All in all a testament to a man's life spent painting.


Walter Darby Bannard

December 30, 2011, 10:41 PM

Hi David. Good to hear from you. I was not able to see the de Kooning show but it certainly would be interesting to go through it with you—it sounds as if we would agree on much of it. I would like to see all the early things, especially the '40s, and some of those pastelly pix of the '60s which most people don't seem to like much. He was a hell of a painter, really the best of all of them at just plain mushing that oil paint around.

A lot of those School of Paris painters I invoked were not bad; seeing them today, against what is being done now, certainly reinforces that. They also are doing well in current auctions, in this time of frantic art speculation.



December 31, 2011, 7:47 AM

I saw the de Kooning show and was too overwhelmed with joy to write anything about it. I have some sketchbook drawings that I may post. I'd like to see it again, but it's only up through January 9.

Our culture insists on a kind of hierarchical structure which puts mediocre art on top in its current time while it nurses along the best art for the future.

This is a profound observation, good enough for essay-length treatment.

Arta-Seltzer or Pepto-Aesthetol, or something.

I LOLed.


Walter Darby Bannard

December 31, 2011, 9:38 AM

Thanks for the attribution of profundity, though it may be undeserved. I am usually quite satisfied with plain old accuracy.



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