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Dali's Demon Bride
April 17, 2013 3:46 PM   Subscribe

That Salvador Dali fell victim to his Russian wife Gala's lust for domination and very young men is no longer a matter of conjecture....some terrifying new facts, which reveal in more detail and depth than ever before how and why this quintessential Surrealist—the master of the soft watches—allowed himself to be destroyed by one of the nastiest wives a major modern artist ever saddled himself with. Art critic John Richardson examines Dali's life with Gala [PDF, should be SFW]. This article originally appeared in Vanity Fair in 1998.A slightly edited version of the article illustrated with different photos [NSFW]. [via Nag On The Lake]
posted by CCBC (47 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
What is gained by reducing great men to their personal lives? This, that movie about Hitchcock that apparently focuses on his wife helping him make Psycho, that movie about Joyce and Nora... it all reduces great artistic works to the products of domestic squabbles!
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:57 PM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is pretty good.

Eluard prided himself on his sexual prowess, but he failed to satisfy Gala, so she took lovers on the side. They had to be exceedingly young, handsome, and horny. Since Gala was blessed with striking, Slavic looks, an appetizing little body, and the libido of an electric eel, she had no difficulty finding them.
posted by bukvich at 4:00 PM on April 17, 2013


A woman liked sex? Quelle horreur!
posted by koeselitz at 4:02 PM on April 17, 2013 [16 favorites]


Maybe she really was that bad, but "one of the nastiest wives a major modern artist ever saddled himself with" seems to have the inbuilt premise that major modern artists are men, their wives are harridans, etc etc. Obviously all the genius lies with the man and all the evil lies with the woman, that's only natural, it says so in the Bible.
posted by subdee at 4:02 PM on April 17, 2013 [32 favorites]


Much as they revered the works of the Marquis de Sade, they felt threatened when an authentically Sadean monster manifested herself in their midst.

What, precisely, qualifies her as an "authentically Sadean monster" besides a high sex drive?
posted by scody at 4:02 PM on April 17, 2013 [15 favorites]


I realized, as I was reading this, that at some point I must have gotten their marriage mixed up in my imagination with that of Gomez and Morticia Addams. Probably just a side effect of the mustache.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 4:03 PM on April 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


She wasn't nice to the author of this review, scody. And that justifies any number of synonyms for "harridan."
posted by koeselitz at 4:03 PM on April 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


This is clearly a well-reasoned article which carefully examined multiple sources to produced the most unbiased account it could of a fascinating figure in modern art history.

After all, no one would ever blame a woman unfairly, right?
posted by a power-tie-wearing she-capitalist at 4:07 PM on April 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


Woe betide them if they went after Dali's girls, chicks with dicks for the most part,

I guess there are worse transphobic slurs he coulda gone with here, but damn....
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 4:10 PM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's crazy what fifteen years will do to a society, really. If they published this article today it'd be around the internet in a minute, covered with (justifiably) angry commentary about its clear sexism, transphobia, and general mean-spiritedness. But in 1998, I'm sure it was accepted with nary a whisper.

I guess that's progress. Probably good to be reminded of it.
posted by koeselitz at 4:11 PM on April 17, 2013 [13 favorites]


"After all, no one would ever blame a woman unfairly, right?"

That has never happened.
posted by Time To Sharpen Our Knives at 4:12 PM on April 17, 2013


the libido of an electric eel

Is there some sort of general understanding of electric eel reproductive practices that I've managed to miss for 40 years?
posted by GuyZero at 4:18 PM on April 17, 2013 [22 favorites]


Shitty article but the photos are neat.
posted by Doleful Creature at 4:25 PM on April 17, 2013


And aside from the sexism and other assorted nastiness, this
Dali’s period of greatness had lasted little more than 10 years. His “last scandal,” he promised, would be a return to classicism, but he no longer had the skill, the time, or the patience for it. Dali’s “classicism” turned out to be academic kitsch. Thanks to Gala, the rest of his life would be an ever accelerating degringolade.
seems like a strange assessment. His "period of greatness" doesn't include The Temptation of St. Anthony, or The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, or any of those wild vertiginous crucifixions? We're okay with the melting watches and the business with the pomegranate and everything after that is dreck? What a weird perspective.

But I guess if it were less offensive this guy's take would be fun the way reading Lester Bangs is fun: "Okay, dude, I disagree completely with your aesthetic stance, but I have to admire your total balls-out maniacal eloquent devotion to it all the same."
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 4:25 PM on April 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


George Orwell had a different perspective:
Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats. However, even the most flagrantly dishonest book (Frank Harris's autobiographical writings are an example) can without intending it give a true picture of its author. Dali's recently published LIFE comes under this heading. Some of the incidents in it are flatly incredible, others have been rearranged and romanticised, and not merely the humiliation but the persistent ORDINARINESS of everyday life has been cut out. Dali is even by his own diagnosis narcissistic, and his autobiography is simply a strip-tease act conducted in pink limelight. But as a record of fantasy, of the perversion of instinct that has been made possible by the machine age, it has great value.

Here, then, are some of the episodes in Dali's life, from his earliest years onward. Which of them are true and which are imaginary hardly matters: the point is that this is the kind of thing that Dali would have LIKED to do.

When he is six years old there is some excitement over the appearance of Halley's comet: Suddenly one of my father's office clerks appeared in the drawing-room doorway and announced that the comet could be seen from the terrace. . . While crossing the hall I caught sight of my little three-year-old sister crawling unobtrusively through a doorway. I stopped, hesitated a second, then gave her a terrible kick in the head as though it had been a ball, and continued running, carried away with a 'delirious joy' induced by this savage act. But my father, who was behind me, caught me and led me down in to his office, where I remained as a punishment till dinner-time. A year earlier than this Dali had 'suddenly, as most of my ideas occur,' flung another little boy off a suspension bridge. Several other incidents of the same kind are recorded, including (THIS WAS WHEN HE WAS TWENTY-NINE YEARS OLD) knocking down and trampling on a girl 'until they had to tear her, bleeding, out of my reach.'

When he is about five he gets hold of a wounded bat which he puts into a tin pail. Next morning he finds that the bat is almost dead and is covered with ants which are devouring it. He puts it in his mouth, ants and all, and bites it almost in half. When he is an adolescent a girl falls desperately in love with him. He kisses and caresses her so as to excite her as much as possible, but refuses to go further. He resolves to keep this up for five years (he calls it his 'five-year plan'), enjoying her humiliation and the sense of power it gives him. He frequently tells her that at the end of the five years he will desert her, and when the time comes he does so. Till well into adult life he keeps up the practice of masturbation, and likes to do this, apparently, in front of a looking-glass. For ordinary purposes he is impotent, it appears, till the age of thirty or so. When he first meets his future wife, Gala, he is greatly tempted to push her off a precipice. He is aware that there is something that she wants him to do to her, and after their first kiss the confession is made:

I threw back Gala's head, pulling it by the hair, and trembling with complete hysteria, I commanded: 'Now tell me what you want me to do with you! But tell me slowly, looking me in the eye, with the crudest, the most ferociously erotic words that can make both of us feel the greatest shame!' Then Gala, transforming the last glimmer of her expression of pleasure into the hard light of her own tyranny, answered:

'I want you to kill me!'

He is somewhat disappointed by this demand, since it is merely what he wanted to do already. He contemplates throwing her off the bell-tower of the Cathedral of Toledo, but refrains from doing so.
The essay continues, Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali
posted by Blasdelb at 4:30 PM on April 17, 2013 [15 favorites]


The tone of the thing is so hysterically mean and over-the-top lurid that I have a hard time believing anything the author says. It could be that every single thing he says is true, but it reads like the work of a man who will say anything to take these people down, who will twist any fact to make them look worse, and who will make stuff up when it suits his agenda.

All that being said, reading a biography of Dali years ago it struck me that the only difference between Dali and a crazy man who wanders the streets covered in mud and muttering about Martians is that Dali was able to channel his craziness into a format that made him rich and famous. A lot of great artists are basically lunatics with agents. Dali played up his craziness in entertaining ways, to some extent it was an act... But deep down, he was really fucking crazy.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:31 PM on April 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


That article is a lovely example of "vituperative."

Say what you like about Dali, he did a great job on What's My Line?
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:52 PM on April 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


What, precisely, qualifies her as an "authentically Sadean monster" besides a high sex drive?

The author's virulent dislike, and the idea that "Sadean" shows how sophisticated he is?
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:02 PM on April 17, 2013


This is probably unrelated to the article but google did not pull up a good source for the perhaps apocryphal Dali quotation, There is only one difference between a madman and me. I am not mad.
posted by bukvich at 5:18 PM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Two points: this article is a response to a new (then) biography of Dali which apparently is also pretty mean. And, I don't think the author's assessment of Dali's late output contradicts the critical consensus, then or now.

(Also, I learned two new words from this article: degringolade and candaulism, so I think it was worth reading.)
posted by CCBC at 5:21 PM on April 17, 2013


What, precisely, qualifies her as an "authentically Sadean monster" besides a high sex drive?

Singing "The Sweetest Taboo" would qualify, wouldn't it?
posted by zippy at 5:47 PM on April 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


I can't read the article at the moment, but little about Fali and Gala's sex life would surprise me.

She reportedly had several young lovers in the couples later years and he was attracted to both sexes. He claimed to have wanted to sleep with Lorca but couldn't go through with it when the opportunity arose.

Several of his portraits of Gala feature her from behind.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:56 PM on April 17, 2013


The author spends most of the article talking about Gala being a terrible wife.. and casually mentions "Dali was said to be outraged at the expenditure and at the degree of Gala's infatuation, which would last almost until she died. In 1981 the worm finally turned. Dali beat up his 87- year-old wife so badly that she had to be taken to the hospital with two broken ribs."

Then he continues with "Gala had become more and more piratical."

...I suppose John Richardson really, really didn't like Gala...
posted by aielen at 6:05 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is there some sort of general understanding of electric eel reproductive practices that I've managed to miss for 40 years?

According to noted marine biologist Cole Porter:
Electric eels I might add do it
Though it shocks 'em I know
Why ask if shad do it - Waiter bring me shad roe
posted by yoink at 6:08 PM on April 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


So Dali had a "Demon Bride" who "outdid him in sexual perversity"? Jesus. She sounds even worse than Yoko Ono. Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles, y'know.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 6:19 PM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't get it. Are people reading only the adjectives in the piece or something? I read it and my overall impression was that Dalí was a pretty despicable character, based on what he did: praising Hitler, cozying up to fascism, selling signatures to art dealers, beating up his elderly wife. Is there some textural magic that makes these things go away just becase it's evident the author didn't like him or Gala?

I do agree that the author is pretty sexist about Gala, but if you take that out it still looks like she was pretty much of a piece with the other managers he chose.
posted by zompist at 6:56 PM on April 17, 2013


That pull quote... ye gods. If my eyebrow went any higher after reading that, it would need oxygen assistance.

Quite a feat, squeezing so many sexist tropes in just a few words.
posted by smoke at 7:04 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Couldn't have anything to do with Dali's portrait of Picasso, could it?
posted by surplus at 7:17 PM on April 17, 2013


I read it and my overall impression was that Dalí was a pretty despicable character, based on what he did: praising Hitler, cozying up to fascism, selling signatures to art dealers, beating up his elderly wife. Is there some textural magic that makes these things go away just becase it's evident the author didn't like him or Gala?
Well, I agree that Dali seems pretty terrible and his longtime wife probably wasn't a very nice person herself. Birds of a feather and all that. But everything bad about him is blamed on her and every bad thing that happened to any man she slept with was also her fault. It's written as if none of the men have any agency at all, they are all under her spell.

So Dali dabbled in Nazism and cozied up to fascism as you say? But look how the author introduces that: With her White Russian terror of Communism, Gala also managed to subvert the liberal ideology that Dali had shared with the fellow geniuses of his student days..

So Dali abandoned his artistic integrity? But look whose fault it is: Thanks to Gala, the rest of his life would be an ever accelerating degringolade.

While insulting her taste the author makes clear that her management is what made Dali a lot of money, but apparently this is why: By the early 1960s, Dali had to work even harder on ever more degrading projects to support Gala’s addiction to gambling and boy toys.

In fact, there are a lot of assertions that Gala's sexual addictions were harming Dali somehow, he was being forced, and everything he did was tainted by Gala, Queen of Sluts. He starts selling his signatures for money? Whose fault is that: What little was left of his integrity as an artist was sacrificed to Gala’s nymphomania and greed for tacky aggrandizement.

Yes, he beat up his elderly wife but again, see how it's framed: In 1981 the worm finally turned. Dali beat up his 87- year-old wife so badly that she had to be taken to the hospital with two broken ribs.

The worm finally turned? Up to this point there's been nothing at all to show that she ever abused him in any way, other than the author simply called her "Sadean".

At a certain point the article is so outrageous as to be comical. I started counting how many times and in how many ways the author could portray Gala as the worst person on earth while recounting terrible things Salvadore Dali did.
posted by Danila at 7:23 PM on April 17, 2013 [19 favorites]


Vanity Fair articles frequently have this ... this smell about them. It's too much money leading to nothing useful to do other than chase status. I enjoy its pungent smell in very small and infrequent doses.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:34 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


My takeaway from this article? Dégringolade is a word I have been waiting all my life to learn. Sure, sure, terrible people. But. . . dégringolade. Nearly a perfect word. I am mispronouncing it with great relish even now.
posted by LucretiusJones at 7:55 PM on April 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


John Richardson is the world's authority on Picasso. He dislikes Dali, Gala and the Surrealists and even great collectors like Peggy Guggenheim.
Dali wasn't into penetrative sex he was a voyeur and coprophyliac and into Candaulism as well as having an ego the size of the sun.
The other surrealists loathed him for his selling out when he went to America hence ''Avida Dollars'' which was due to Gala being his business manager who, as pointed out had a voracious sexual appetite as well as an unsatiable lust for gold. They also completely despised him for his espousal of fascism.
Gala was however Dali's muse and as can be seen in so many of his paintings he adored and was captivated by her.
I don't think he really worried about her lovers, probably the opposite, it was probably just the money they finangled. By 1980 he was a physicly sick man (Palsy) and had stopped any meaningful work. His mental well being had been open to question for a very long time.. Gibson's The shameful life of Salvador Dal is still considered the most authorative biography. This article was to sell magazines and glean cash and probably status for the author and is not a very good article at that. It probably titillates those who know a little.
posted by adamvasco at 8:06 PM on April 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Holy cow, that's a nasty little article. The author must have been stewing in hatred for a long, long time before writing that. I feel like I should take a shower or something.
(Also, I learned two new words from this article: degringolade and candaulism, so I think it was worth reading.)
For me, no less than eight, count 'em, eight: virago, candaulism, harridan, baksheesh, degringolade, doyenne, chatelaine, and hypnological.

And I am a little ashamed to admit that I like the phrase "jerk-of-all-trades". I'm not entirely sure why I'm ashamed. I guess it's from associating it with residual nastiness left over from reading the article.
posted by Flunkie at 10:00 PM on April 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I relished this article, in all its venomous, biased loathing. They both sounded like absolutely horrible, self-centred people in person. Fascinatingly horrid narcissists, preying upon each other.
The tone of the article is unremittingly negative about Gala, but who's to say that she wasn't as awful as claimed?

Thanks for the posting, much schadenfreude in reading the article.
posted by Hypnerotomachia at 10:40 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


One thing nobody has mentioned: Richardson worked for Dali for a while. He blames Gala for corrupting Dali so that the man could no longer produce art, thus forcing Richardson to roll nude models in paint and commit other regrettable acts.
posted by CCBC at 10:49 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've not read it myself, but many reviews of Gibson's biography seem to say that the biography doesn't present either Dali or Gala in a particularly sympathetic light, and concurs with the basic assessment of their enormous, over-weaning egotism and unflattering avariciousness.

One could doubtlessly one could write an article more sympathetic to Gala's perspective and actions, but she does seem by many accounts to be a fairly grotesque and selfish person, if not quite as awful as the Xanthippean parasite Richardson presents her in his article.
posted by Hypnerotomachia at 10:53 PM on April 17, 2013


Is there some sort of general understanding of electric eel reproductive practices that I've managed to miss for 40 years?

Some eels are DC. Some eels are AC.

It's complicated.


They sing to each other (with electric fields).
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:25 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


"But until now, the love life of electric fish was largely a private matter, said Carl Hopkins of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York."

Beautiful.

posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 11:29 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hypnerotomachia: it's not that an article needs to be sympathetic to Gala but that it was so poorly written. I kept waiting for evidence which would justify the persistent tone of contempt, something which would explain all of the overwrought prose. The article ended first.
posted by adamsc at 5:09 AM on April 18, 2013


the libido of an electric eel

Gala Dali sleeps with the fishes.
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:22 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


> "This, that movie about Hitchcock that apparently focuses on his wife helping him make Psycho, that movie about Joyce and Nora... it all reduces great artistic works to the products of domestic squabbles!"

While I've seen this happen (there is, for example, a ridiculous opera about Goya which finds a love affair he may or may not have had far more interesting than any painting he did) ... Hitchcock's wife is generally acknowledged to have been a huge, usually uncredited collaborator on all of his work, and Gala was Dali's manager, figures in many of his paintings, and he even frequently signed paintings with both his and her name.

There is a spectrum which ranges from "talking about personal life which had nothing to do with the work" to "acknowledging that work credited to one person was actually a collaboration".
posted by kyrademon at 6:47 AM on April 18, 2013


I wanted to read the whole article before I delved into the comments, so I'm glad to see everyone else was as bothered by it as I was. Sorry if any of these points have already been made. I enjoy scandal and vitriol as much as anyone, but I'm pretty sure this author hates everyone else in the world just slightly less than he hates Gala.

-"chicks with dicks" = not a cool way to refer to transgender women, and I'm not just being a bleeding heart liberal here; transwomen are one of the populations most vulnerable to hate crimes and sexual violence, and people freely tossing around dehumanizing slurs is the shallow end of that deep pool of misogyny and transphobia and disrespect.

- "In 1981 the worm finally turned. Dali beat up his 87-year-old wife so badly that she had to be taken to the hospital with two broken ribs." Yeah, the old bag was just getting her comeuppance! She was asking for it! Finally!

-"Because he refused to eat, doctors had "equipped him with a grotesque nasal-gastric tube leading directly to his stomach...." // "To annoy them he would soil his bed..." You know, homeboy was 80 and dying. I'm pretty sure that he didn't wake up every morning in perfect health thinking "How can I irritate my caregivers today?" I don't think he cackled maniacally everytime he was left in his own feces for an hour, and craved Big Macs but didn't eat anything just to be a jerk. I think he was old and out of it and in pain. However, I have something called "empathy" and "compassion," two traits I didn't see a lot of in this article.

In conclusion, Gala could have been an evil vampire who was so hungry to suck she didn't stop at just blood, but I have a hard time believing all this slut-shaming is 100% deserved coming from an author who is grinding his ax so hard I'm pretty sure there's just a hatchet handle left at this point.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:50 AM on April 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I rather like this little vignette: Gala is the ultimate artist.
posted by adamvasco at 9:30 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Charlemagne In Sweatpants: “... that movie about Joyce and Nora... it all reduces great artistic works to the products of domestic squabbles!”

Hm. Well, I wasn't even aware of a Joyce / Nora movie, and I'm sure it's terrible, but: isn't complaining that someone reduced Ulysses to a "domestic squabble" kind of like complaining that someone has reduced the Pacific ocean to a body of water?
posted by koeselitz at 11:18 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I read the edited version - so didn't get to read the "chicks with dicks", and probably missed other offending elements. Maybe this is why i find the article interesting. I've never liked Dali - obviously he degraded his own work, which any artist is entitled to, but he dragged the whole surrealist movement down with him, and I have a sense that was a shame. It could have been interesting, but it wasn't.
I think the whole situation in Spain under Franco was degrading. From a purely artistic point of view, some of the same things happened with Miro's work. They needed to stay in Spain, but the price they paid in terms of respect in the larger art world was huge.
About the relationship: we'll never know how they worked it out as a couple. It seems they had a different agenda from most couples, and it worked for them. The article hints at some dynamics around her white Russian background, his family issues, the Franco regime that are all very relevant for understanding the development of his work.
posted by mumimor at 1:38 PM on April 18, 2013


Charlemagne In Sweatpants: “... that movie about Joyce and Nora... it all reduces great artistic works to the products of domestic squabbles!”

Hm. Well, I wasn't even aware of a Joyce / Nora movie, and I'm sure it's terrible, but: isn't complaining that someone reduced Ulysses to a "domestic squabble" kind of like complaining that someone has reduced the Pacific ocean to a body of water?
posted by koeselitz at 6:18 AM on April 19
[1 favorite +] [!]


Good point. In my reading I tend to focus more on the isolated bits of language - the Proteus chapter, the surreal play in Nighttown, Bloom's lists. The domestic aspect is just background for that, though that may change as I get older. It matters, I suppose, but it matters less than HOW it's written.

As for Dali, his whole life was a work of art. This piece is probably sexist mythologizing but life is more fun when you 'print the legend', especially with a figure like Dali. Let the soap opera directors reduce it to domestic truth.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:56 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hilarious. Much of this spleen is also mentioned in Luis Bunuel's fascinating memoir 'My Last Sigh'. Bunuel also hated Gala, but I think that Dali and Gala were an odd, ambitious couple who were made for each other.

Let the soap opera directors reduce it to domestic truth.

Unfurl BioPic Time Now!
posted by ovvl at 8:39 PM on April 19, 2013


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