Yesterday I read a powerfully engaging article on the art of the 1930s which hooked me from the start with references to a picture of Dali’s I’d never even heard of let alone seen, in spite of my interest in the Surrealists. Its analysis of Picasso’s Guernica, a painting whose power I have seen up close, is masterly. Below is a short extract: for the full post see link.
Salvador Dalí’s The Enigma of Hitler is a ghostly farewell to the 1930s. Painted in the last year of the decade, when Hitler’s invasion of Poland finally brought the years of appeasement to an end, its image of a melting telephone suspended above a photograph of the Führer torn from a newspaper and lying on a plate (otherwise empty except for a few dry beans) recalls the long-distance conversations of barren diplomacy, the anxiety of hearing the latest shocking news, the dread of waiting for war.
An umbrella that could easily belong to the prime minister Neville Chamberlain hangs impotently in the ether, fading away – as colourless as the bleak landscape with which Dalí holds a mirror to his age.
The grey desolation of this image is all the more poignant because Dalí was no political activist. He was, indeed, so reluctant to take sides that he got thrown out of the surrealist movement for confessing that he dreamt about the Nazi leader. “Hitler turned me on in the highest,” he later acknowledged. Yet precisely because he reflected the dark urges of his times with such dangerous honesty, Dalí’s art presents an inner chronicle of the 30s, a secret diary of the nightmares behind the headlines.
No decade has ever been so lucidly portrayed by its artists. If anyone was surprised by the increasing aggression of Nazi Germany or the barbarity of the dictatorships, it was not for lack of warnings in paintings, photomontages, objects or art films such as Dalí and Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou (1929), whose string of violently erotic images reveals a unhinged world.
The reason artists could so acutely expose the demonic politics of the 30s was their interest in the unconscious, which the Surrealist Manifesto in 1924 had made the central interest of the avant garde.