The Surreal NYC Encounters of Dali and Warhol

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Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol at the St. Regis Hotel. New York, circa 1965. Copyright David McCabe

Dr Hank Hine, Executive Director of the Dali Universe in London, writes about the shared NYC years of artists Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol’s lives, when he contends:

Warhol and Dali lived in New York at the  same time. . . Artistically they are of the same species – both radical. If Dali is radical in the way he delivered his subject of the changeable self through many media- painting, sculpture, film, and language – Warhol is radical in allowing media to provide his subject – faces from the tabloids and glossy magazines, products from the catalog of the American consumer. If Dali used popular media to present his vision of the dream world, Warhol used popular media as the subject of his art. Warhol was one of the American artists most marked by the legacy and model of Salvador Dali.

Both men were megalomaniac artists eager to leave an imprint on the world.

Whereas Warhol embraces and glamorizes fame and is famous for saying, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” Dali subverts reality in his encounters, finding symbolic meanings that transcend and challenge the boundaries between fiction and truth.

Both artists question mortality, understand perfection truly does not exist, and according to a 1978 encounter, concur they enjoy looking for “beautiful freaks.”

February 22 marked the death anniversary of Andy Warhol. Additionally, 2014 marks the 110th birth anniversary of one of Spain’s most controversial and interesting painters, Salvador Dali, one of the strongest pioneers of the Surrealist movement in art.

Whether we know Dali for his lobster telephone or his lips sofa, and Warhol for his contributions to seeking everyday objects such as stacked Campbell soup cans, and posters of Marilyn Monroe, as art.

Without knowing the connection between these two artists, I began to read Warhol’s diaries, to discover that acceptance into the art community is one of Andy Warhol’s consistent obsessions in his writings, chronicled by his longtime friend, confidante, and editor Pat Hackett, in “The Andy Warhol Diaries.

The book is a careful examination of the recurring faces of collaboration and contempt as Warhol traverses parties, helicopter rides to Atlantic City with Diana Ross and Frank Sinatra’s tailor, to see the legend in concert at the “Golden Egg,” in 1983, for example. The acute details are set off by the accompanying receipts from taxi rides and wayside phone booths- an intricate account of every day of Warhol’s life, which are a carefully cultivated socio-political commentary of New York’s glitterati, by a man who managed to remain at the pinnacle of emerging movements.

I was very curious about the meeting of the two artists which I read about in 1978, where Salvador Dali gives used palates to Andy Warhol as a gift in a gathering at a restaurant.

Further research led to finding out that the two met for the first time in Dali’s hotel suites in New York’s prestigious and lavish St. Regis Hotel, in an appropriately surreal encounter in the summer of 1965. 

Dali beckons Warhol into Room 1610, the room which Dali held regularly,at the hotel.

A nervous Warhol was “guzzling back wine,” prior to this meeting, according to photographer David McCabe, who was present to document the encounter.

Dali proceeded to grab an Incan headdress and placing it on Warhol’s head. McCabe and Warhol engage with Dali for a total of five “uncomfortable minutes,” according to the photographer, before Warhol told McCcabe, “David, we gotta go.”

The encounter, which is not recorded in the artist’s autobiography presents a Warhol who is pushed to his limits, but mesmerized enough to return several times over the next two decades for the company of the man.

Dali’s hold on Warhol is prescient. On a subsequent visit to St. Regis, Dali tied Warhol to a spinning wheel and poured paint all over him.

Dali’s interactions with Warhol are a meditation of how two famous artists at differing points of defining the art spectrum recognize each other’s presence in symbolic games of cat and mouse, hunting through a very physical act of exerting dominance, that was uncomfortable for Warhol.

What exactly is the discomfort that Dali inspires in Warhol?

Warhol has a lasting impression of Dali. He instructs McCabe not to include the photograph in any collection, as it does not correlate with the image Warhol wants to present of himself.

Yet, he appears to have been a great admirer of Dali, despite the public discomfort he appears to feel with Dali’s antics, which compel him to tell McCabe to remove the negative of the headdress-wearing Warhol.

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By 1978, it is clear that Warhol continues to be a long admirer of the artist. He takes along two copies of Dali’s book for the artist’s autograph for a dinner with the artist in May, when he makes the assessment:

Dali is so full of ideas, and he’s ahead in some things, but then he’s behind in others. It’s odd. He was telling me about a book that’s just been written in Paris about a brother and sister who were so in love that the brother (laughs) ate her shit. He said that my idea of piss-painting was old-fashioned because it’d been in the movie Teorema which (laughs) is true. it was. I knew that. Then he said something great- he said that the punks are the “Shit Children,” because they are descendants of the beatniks and the hippies, and he’s right. Isn’t that great? The Shit Children. He is smart.

What is more, the two share an interesting dialogue about what they perceive as art.

Dali suggests to Warhol that he is looking for “beautiful freaks,” and the two share a moment of shared desires, whilst Warhol offers up one of his Factory usuals, Walter Stedling. What is most interesting though, is Warhol’s need to be perceived as desirable by Dali. The older artist offers the younger man an unusual gift, but a gift which, when perceived symbolically, is a handing over ceremony to Warhol’s generation. Warhol writes:

Dali was really sweet. He’d brought a plastic bag full of his used up palates as. . . a present to me.

Any encounter that has evolved from being a sadistic insult of pouring colors onto the face and body of an artist in the name of art does need to be fully understood by the actions which proceeded from it.

The moment that Dali handed over used palates heralded the completion of a metamorphosis in their relationship,  transformation and a symbolic marker of the blossoming of a rare bond between two of the most important artists of the Twentieth Century.

Curious for more? If you happen to be in St. Petersburg, Florida through April 27, 2014, you can attend a retrospective of the two artists in an exhibit titled, “Warhol at the Dali: Art. Fame. Mortality.

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6 thoughts on “The Surreal NYC Encounters of Dali and Warhol

  1. Fascinating. I adore Dali’s work though I confess Warhol leaves me cold. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see how these two greats interacted with one another. All very, and appropriately, surreal.

    • I have been delving into the diaries of a series of literary and artistic celebrities from the 1950s and 60s over the past few days- Italo Calvino, Andy Warhol, Ayn Rand, and then found even more questions, so went into Rainer Maria Rilke and Octavio Paz. It’s been a fantastic read of scattered thoughts, and I agree: VERY surreal, particularly because no one is ever neutral on Dali.

      • Yeah I think the 60s in particular was a very confused time – which did, at least, lead to whole new waves of thinking and expression. Dali captured naturally what all artists of any genre – visual art, music or literary – desire which is to excite emotion, whether it be good or bad, rather than be ignored.

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