My Spain diary from thirty years ago recounts a group excursion to a Dali retrospective in Madrid. Understand the context: although I attended prep school in Colorado Springs, I lived in Divide forty five minutes west up Ute Pass. For my homestay in 1983, I was placed in Herencia, La Mancha, a small town of 7,000. We barely saw Madrid – the largest city I had every visited up until that point in my life – before being placed in our homestays. Nothing prepared me for Dali’s canvases especially their phallic misogyny. One painting has endured in my memory: The Great Masturbator. Suffice it to say that I do not like Dali’s work.
However, I do recognize his genius; the AHA staff (the incredible on-site team who organizes the Segovia program), after fifty calls to Madrid and copious documentation to prove our university status, secured entrance to a special Dali retrospective at the Museo de La Reina Sofia. We have planned it as a surprise for the students. In my experience, students love Dali’s work because it bends our very notion of reality.
Thirty years later I visit this exhibition and I experience the same revulsion I feel about Almodovar’s films (with the exception of “Las mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios” and “Volver”). Almodovar who thinks he understands women really does not. He represents them in sordid or silly (or both) roles and contexts. This is not a moral point of mine, it is sociopolitical. Almodovar left La Mancha and went to Madrid in the 1960s. He made his first films with a handheld Super-8 videocamera (some of the titles are too obscene to publish here). Later he was a central agent of La Movida, an artistic-party culture whose highly permissive art forms (and lifestyles) rejected the socially repressive dictatorship before.
Importantly, Almodovar’s films show the exit from Spain’s past. But they go too far by making grotesque human sexuality. One film with this shock -aesthetic would have been enough, not twenty.
In 1983 Dali’s exhibit opened my eyes to alternative perspectives. It also got me thinking about the artistic representation of women by men.