Salvador Dali attained international acclaim as a young artist in the 1930s. In 1933, curator Dawn Ames described Dali as 'surrealism's most exotic and prominent figure.' Surrealist poet Andre Breton wrote that Dali's name was 'synonymous with revelation in the resplendent sense of the word.' In 1936, Dali made the cover of Time magazine.
Dali didn't simply sit back and enjoy the acclaim. He exploited it. Dali was a shameless self-promoter and admitted to having a 'pure, vertical, mystical, gothic love of cash.' Ultimately, it was Dali's unapologetic drive for fame and fortune that proved to be too surreal for the Surrealists.
Andre Breton, whose opinion of Dali soured over time, created an anagram of Dali's name: Avida Dollars ('greedy for money'). Breton and the other Surrealists, many of whom were closely allied with the French Communist Party, expelled Dali from their group in 1939. Dali responded, 'I myself am surrealism.'
Over the next several decades, Dali became increasingly flamboyant and controversial. He arrived at a lecture in Paris in a Rolls Royce filled with cauliflower. He did commercials for Alka-Seltzer and chocolate bars. He was thrilled when Sears sold his prints to the masses. He signed sheets of blank lithograph paper and sold them for $10 a sheet. As Dali became increasingly popular with the masses, however, his reputation among art critics suffered.
'There was an era when being a successful artist made you suspect, made your art suspect,' says Hank Hine, executive director of The Dali Museum. 'When I was going through school, we were not shown Dali. He was not part of the canon. Yes, we would buy posters, we could find his images, but largely he was not part of the serious discussion of values, which is what constitutes serious art. I believe that has changed.'
Others in the art world agree. The Philadelphia Museum of Art's Michael R. Taylor, for example, believes that 'Dali should be ranked with Picasso and Matisse as one of the three greatest painters of the 20th century.'