Extensive Salvador Dalí Exhibit Hits South Florida: Curator Christine Argillet Takes Us Inside

Dalí: Over the years, he's been viewed by many in many different lights - pioneer, madman, caricature, visionary. But regardless of one's perspective, it's difficult, if not impossible, to deny that the man was one of the most important artists of the 20th century, the mustache-laden, bug-eyed king of the dada-ists and the surrealists, and that with his works he was able to transport the viewer to foreign dimensions that spewed from his mind onto every wall where his prints and paintings hang, dimensions that were beautiful and jarring and bewildering all at once.

Florida is no stranger to the works of Salvador Dalí, with one of the finest collections in the country (and some would argue in the world) found in St. Petersburg at the Dalí Museum. But now, another incredible assortment of the surrealist master's art can be seen in the Sunshine State, and this one is significantly closer to home. The Argillet Collection, curated by Madame Cristine Argillet, daughter to Dalí's longtime publisher and confidante, Pierre Argillet, is going on a touring exhibition around the US. The tour begins at the Wentworth galleries in Ft. Lauderdale and Boca Raton. While the exhibit officially opens February 1st, you can preview the collection of Dalí's etchings and original drawings right now, nearly all of which are available to be bought.

Argillet is not one who ought to be downplayed in terms of her connection with Salvador Dalí. Her experience with the man was altogether unique, growing up with one of the people who was closest to him and spending all her summers, from the ages 5 to 17, in a hotel across from his house in Spain.

"That was the only way my father had to get his contracts done with Dalí," explained Argillet, "otherwise Dalí would just sell his works, and that happened a few times, so at a certain point, my father was upset and decided we would spend the two months of July and August each year in front of Dalí's house...I saw him nearly everyday in July and August, a few times more in Paris when Dalí was coming."

It's hard not to smile at the thought of Dalí wandering into the market with a new drawing and selling it to a random stranger, drawing the ire of his publisher until Argillet finally decided to move his family across the street from the artist's home for two months at a time just to try and contain him to some degree.

It's equally interesting to imagine growing up around the archetype of the eccentric, yet ingenious artiste.

"You know he had those slippers, those shorts, and he was working a lot. He was always very enthusiastic, always very positive, always trying to find new ways of showing things, of astonishing people. I remember each time we would go, I would be amazed by new things he had found and which were exhibited in his home," Argillet recalled.

Dalí didn't simply amaze his guests with paintings in progress and lively conversation. Argillet laughed when she remembered a device he'd made that allowed him to move his mustache using tape and how he told her that he'd found a way to make his mustache move on its own using a special mixture of cologne and specific herbs that he picked behind his house.

She also recalled that Dalí, rather than keep an ashtray on the table, had a tortoise that just ambled around the room carrying an ashtray on its back.

"You would see an ashtray moving in the dining room and you would look down and see that the ashtray was place on the shell of a tortoise and the animal would just wander in the dining room, bringing the ashtray to everyone," Argillet said. "There were always things like that happening and it was very fun."

And yet, as Argillet made sure to establish, he was a serious man with lofty aspirations and intense commitment to his art. She decribed seeing many of Dalí's paintings starting out as a simple array of geometric shapes, which at first confused her. He would tell her that he was working on the "golden ratio" and that all of his ideas would flow into the arrangement once he'd worked it out.

It was out of respect for artists like Dalí and for her father who worked with them that she decided to take the collection on tour.

"When my father passed, which was 12 years ago now, I was in charge of this collection and I thought, 'What can I do for it?' I had the feeling that I had to give a tribute to my father as the great publisher and friend to artists, I had to give tribute to these artists, who had done wonderful things, and I wanted this collection to be known, more than to a small circle in Paris," Argillet stated.

The Argillet Collection, while mostly composed of drawings, prints, and etchings, is not to be scoffed at by any means, either in terms of scope or content. Among the pieces are works from various suites including Mythologie, Les Hippies, and Poemes Secrets d'Apollinaire. The collection also features a suite of 50 etchings titled Songs of the Maldoror. The etchings range from 1934 to 1973 and are among the rarest of Dalí's works, having been exhibited only once before.

She's donated portions of the collection to various art museums in the U.S., including the LA County Museum of Art and she says that's essentially the whole idea behind this tour: to show and promote the art. In her words, "The art that you have in a vault doesn't help anyone."

You can go see the collection before the exhibition opens starting today. When the tour officially begins on February 1st, Christine Argillet will be making a special appearance and meeting visitors at both Wentworth Gallery locations, first in Fort Lauderdale (819 Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale) from 1 - 3 p.m., and later in Boca (517 Town Center Mall 6000 Glades Road, Boca Raton) from 6 - 9 p.m. Entry to both galleries is free to the public, but RSVP is Strongly recommended. To RSVP at the Wentworth Gallery in Fort Lauderdale, call (954) 468-0685; for their Boca Raton Gallery, call (561) 338-0804.

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