Today is the birth day of Gala, one of the most extraordinary women in the history of contemporary art. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya celebrates the date with the major exhibition.
Gala, or Elena Ivanovna Diakonova, was born on 7 September in Kazan to a family of intellectuals. A companion to Dalí, and before that to the poet Paul Éluard, Gala Dalí was sometimes admired but often slighted or ignored. Nonetheless, she was without doubt one of the key figures of the avant-garde. Representations of her in paintings by Max Ernst, in photographs by Man Ray and Cecil Beaton, and especially in works by Salvador Dalí are much more than portraits: they com- prise an autobiographical odyssey on which Gala imagined and created her own image—like a true postmodern heroine.
The exhibition will also follow Salvador Dalí’s evolution as a painter, gathering a significant col- lection of his works—some 60 in total—including oil paintings and drawings. It will also present a selection of paintings, drawings and photographs by other artists who were part of the sur- realist movement, including Max Ernst, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Cecil Beaton and Brassaï. An interesting collection of letters, postcards and books will also be on display for the first time, as well as dresses and objects from Gala’s personal wardrobe. In total, the exhibition will present approximately 315 pieces that reconstruct this complex and fascinating character.
It will unveil a woman who camouflaged herself as a muse while forging her own path as an art- ist: writing, imagining, creating her own image while also playing an essential role in Salvador Dalí’s artistic development.
“Who was the real Gala? Who was this woman whom everybody noticed, who awakened the hatred of Breton and Buñuel, unconditional love in Éluard and Dalí, passion in Max Ernst, loyal friendship in Crevel; who served and was Man Ray’s model? Was she simply an inspiring muse for artists and poets? Or, despite having few signed pieces—only a few surreal objects that are currently lost, certain cadavres exquis and the pages of a diary—was she more of a creator? In truth, Gala was a creative woman who wrote, read and designed her own clothes, as well as her own image for portrayal by Salvador Dalí. She co-authored much of her second husband’s work, to such an extent that towards the end of his life, he began to sign his pieces with both their names: ‘Gala-Salvador Dalí’. And we could go further still: if we believe that she is not only present in Dalí’s paintings, but that she forms the basis of the very image he constructs, to what extent can we say that Gala is part of that manoeuvre of the ‘artist as a work of art?’” These are some of the questions that curator Estrella de Diego asks in this exhibition.
As museum director Pepe Serra explains, Gala Dalí “entails an important milestone for the museum. On the one hand, it is the first show ever dedicated to Gala; as such, it will provide new knowledge on the subject—a requirement for all of our programming. On the other, collaboration with the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation has been extraordinarily positive, and— thanks to an extremely generous contribution of works—has allowed us to present an exhibi- tion of international scope in Barcelona, one related to Dalí but narrated from a totally unique point of view.”