By Howard Pousner
Atlantans clearly hated to say goodbye to Dalí.
The High Museum of Art’s “Dalí: The Late Work” exhibition drew 20,214 during an open-for-31-hours-straight grand finale, raising overall attendance to more than 270,000.
That makes it the fifth best-attended exhibit in High history. But considered in context, the numbers are more impressive: Three of the top-five shows were from the Atlanta museum’s extended partnership with Paris’ Louvre museum and ran for nearly a year each. The Dalí exhibit, by contrast, was up for 22 weeks.
“I certainly hoped the exhibit would be a big draw. To actually see the volumes of people was beyond my expectations,” “Dalí” curator Elliott King said in an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
A Dali scholar who lectures at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the University of Denver, King said he was originally optimistic that the exhibit would strike a popular chord. That instinct seemed immediately on target when he observed some museum-goers waiting in line in lawn chairs on opening day and remained accurate through until the marathon closing event, when King gave several curator tours in the wee hours.
“The works we had on loan really were very special,” he said. “Many of the paintings had not been exhibited in the U.S. in over 50 years, so it was a great opportunity to see a collection that may never be pulled together again.”
But there was also an aspect of gamble. The Spanish surrealist had made his mark before the period covered in the High-organized exhibit and his later output, after 1940, had long been dismissed by the art establishment as that of an artist more consumed with celebrity than fresh expression.
But King believes the aggressively marketed show, which received an enthusiastic critical reception, will be “a game-changer” in terms of evaluating Dalí’s late output and in the overall view of his career.
New York Times critic Roberta Smith’s rave review, in particular, “reflected a major shift in how the art world is responding to Dalí’s late work,” King said. “I think art historians, critics and museums took note.”
The scholarship behind the exhibit and detailed catalog, which sold more that 4,560 copies, should be a bridge to future publications and exhibits addressing elements of Dalí’s late work, King said. “And I’m excited to be part of that.”
High Museum top attended exhibits
1. “Louvre Atlanta: The Louvre and the Masterpiece”
Oct. 12, 2008-Sept. 13, 2009
2. “Louvre Atlanta: The Royal Collections”
Oct. 14, 2006-Sept. 2, 2007
3. “The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army”
Nov. 16, 2008–April 19, 2009
4. “Louvre Atlanta: The Louvre and the Ancient World”
Oct. 16, 2007-Sept. 3, 2008
5. “Dalí: The Late Work”
Aug. 7, 2010–Jan. 9, 2011