Niagara Gazette

August 28, 2013

New Castellani exhibit features cookbook prints by Salvador Dali

By Danielle Haynes danielle.haynes@tonawanda-news.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The folks over at the Castellani Art Museum at Niagara University must be pretty hungry these days.

With an exhibit in the folk arts galleries about cultural and religious uses of foods, a TopSpin solo exhibit by University at Buffalo student Mary A. Johnson featuring images made in part from juices and smudges of fruit and other food items (which ends today), and an upcoming TopSpin solo show by Jody Hanson of paintings made with salt beginning Sept. 8, it may be a little surprising — or maybe even fitting — that Castellani Curator of Collections and Exhibitions Michael Beam chose another food-related show to be the museum’s next traveling exhibit.

Ultimately, the choice to put on view a collection of 12 prints illustrating a cookbook by surrealist Salvador Dali was a happy coincidence. “Les Diners de Gala,” by Dali is on display at the museum through Feb. 14.

“It was serendipitous,” Beam said. “It just so happens that while (Curator of Folk Arts) Carrie Hertz was (developing “(Almost) Too Good To Eat,”) I was thinking of “Gala.” It just happened accidentally ... sometimes accidents are the best thing.”

The exhibit features 12 prints Dali created to serve as chapter illustrations for a book of more than 100 recipes he compiled. The book says Dali is the author, but in actuality, commissioned several well-known French chefs at the time to submit recipes for meat, seafood, desserts and even a whole chapter focused on foods considered to be aphrodisiacs.

“He, of course, being Dali took the credit” for the book, Beam said.

Being the brainchild of an artist best known for painting melting clocks and amorphous humanoid figures, and having a kooky mustache, it should be no surprise that the recipes and illustrations are eccentric, combining a mix of appetizing-sounding dishes, with some that just seem bizarre.

The recipes “are very heavily sauced, heavily exotic, with eastern European flairs,” Beam said. “There’s a great recipe for almond toast, made of chopped-up almonds and butter, which sounds great but then Dali adds sheep brains.”

Other recipes include one for thousand-year-old eggs (made by leaving eggs buried underground for a couple days), frog pasties and veal cutlets stuffed with snails. 

“If you’re in Paris, these recipes would be what you’d have at restaurants in the 1970s ... this is what all the chefs were cooking. Today it may not be to our liking,” Beam said.

Photographs accompanying some of the dishes are noted for their beautiful and sometimes outlandish presentation. One dish included the stuffed torso of a peacock with gold leafing. Another was a towering pile of shellfish.

And with the 12 illustrations, Dali took the imagery one step further, appropriating images from Heironymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights,” a 15th century painted triptych often considered surrealist in its own right.

In the image for the chapter on vegetables, for example, a platter of food items are accompanied by cut-out images of birds and figures from Bosch’s painting. In another, a dead, plucked bird is covered by a cloth that resembles the Shroud of Turin.

“What’s really exciting about the food is the presentation,” Beam said. “With Dali, everything is absolutely beautifully presented.”

Others are more suggestive. A seafood dish includes a fish with the anatomy of a nude woman, another is a nude portrait of Dali’s wife — “I don’t know why her head is a plumb,” though, Beam commented.

One might not want to question why Dali makes certain choices in his depiction of food. The exhibition catalog tells readers the artist had a lifelong interest in the culinary arts and was known to bathe in sardine oil and take afternoon naps with live lobsters in his bed.

“At the age of 6 I wanted to be a cook. At 7 I wanted to be Napoleon,” Dali said of his culinary interest. “And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.”

Dali created 590 portfolios of prints to go along with “Les Diners de Gala,” 50 of which were artist proofs, meaning they were created with the artist on hand during the print-making process. The Castellani’s portfolio is No. 37 of the 50 artist proofs, making it all the more remarkable, Beam said.

The collection was donated to the Castellani by Dr. Paul Cutler and wife Beverly Cutler in 1997. Once the exhibit wraps up at the Castellani, it will tour the country as part of the museum’s initiative to create more traveling exhibits.

“It gets our name out there and it gets an important museum collection in Western New York recognized,” Beam said of the traveling exhibits. “Artworks don’t do any good sitting in a closet.”

For those itching at the chance to try one of Dali’s culinary masterpieces, the Castellani is featuring the Casanova cocktail recipe at its annual Gala Oct. 19. English-language versions of the book are also available. 

Contact Sunday Lifestyle editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116 or follow her on Twitter at @DanielleHaynes1.

IF YOU GO • WHAT: "Les Diners de Gala" by Salvador Dali • WHEN: Through Feb. 14 • WHERE: Castellani Art Museum at Niagara University, 5795 Lewiston Road • MORE INFORMATION: Call 286-8200 or visit www.castellaniartmuseum.org