Review: Inside Dalí exhibition immerses you in the weird and wonderful world of Salvador Dalí

Surrealism (/səˈrɪəlɪz(ə)m/), noun: a 20th-century avant-garde movement in art and literature which sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example, by the irrational juxtaposition of images.

When I think avant-garde, I think Salvador Dalí.

The Spanish artist was one of the founding fathers of Surrealism, a cultural movement that developed in Europe in the aftermath of World War I in which artists developed techniques to allow the expression of the unconscious mind. Dalí, born in 1904 in Figueres, a small city in Catalonia, amassed a loyal following for his striking yet bizarre pieces that were as experimental as they were nonsensical - the artistic definition and physical manifestation of antonyms.

To learn a little more about his repertoire of iconic works, I went along to the Auckland opening night of Inside Dalí, a multimedia exhibition aiming to give his art a new lease on life in the 21st century.

Full disclosure: I'm a 24-year-old who likes art as much as the next person, but I'm not an aficionado by any stretch of the imagination. Thankfully, art - particularly surrealist art - is highly subjective. There's really no wrong or right way to interpret a painting that explores the metaphysical, the subconscious and the abstract - that's part of its beauty. In the words of the late, great Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan (a pioneer of an art form of which I am particularly knowledgeable): "I can't say what people use the experience of listening to songs for, but I would never tell somebody what it is supposed to mean. That defeats the purpose of making it.

"Hopefully, whoever connects with it connects with it in their own way, and it can mean whatever it is supposed to mean to them."

While this review may not capture the essence of Salvador Dalí in the same way an art historian might, this is my interpretation of what was a very special, beautifully curated exhibition.

Review: Inside Dalí exhibition immerses you in the weird and wonderful world of Salvador Dalí
Photo credit: Supplied

You don't have to be a fan to find joy in the spectacle of Salvador Dalí and his take on surrealism. While I was aware of Dalí's work and able to visualise some of his most notable pieces, such as The Persistence of Memory, I had never taken a deep-dive into his archives - but that didn't matter. Part of its intrigue is that the art encapsulates the weird and the wonderful, the deep and the dark facets of our minds - which is truly fascinating to behold. So please, don't be deterred from attending if you're not a Dalí devotee. 

No matter your level of artistic aptitude, it's still a pleasure to immerse yourself in Dalí's eccentric and whimsical world, if just for an hour. From rifle-brandishing tigers emerging from the mouth of a fish that was born from the flesh of a pomegranate, to melting watches to skeletal animals to warped, twisted faces and religious symbolism, his artwork represents the illogical, depicting somewhat unnerving scenes reminiscent of both dreams and nightmares.

Another plus point is that there is plenty of text throughout - this isn't the type of exhibition that assumes you're already a biographer on the subject. There are a number of passages that provide backstory and insight to contextualise the artworks, as well as a full chronological trip through Dalí's life in pictures. If you're planning on making the most of the exhibition, I'd recommend allocating at least two hours to ensure you have enough time to read your way through and appreciate the artworks - as well as enjoy the stunning visual showcase featuring a walking, talking illusion of Dalí himself. 

Salvador Dali
Photo credit: Getty Images

This cinematic representation of Dalí's works is undoubtedly the highlight, quite literally bringing his art to life. Through cutting-edge digital technology, his masterpieces are enhanced with dimension, movement and sound, providing the ultimate immersive experience into Dalí's creations. The reel, which is projected across the room's four large walls like a multi-screen cinema, runs for roughly 40 minutes - so I'd advise taking a seat on one of the benches or otherwise, finding a spot on the floor. I stood for the majority of it in four-inch heels - do not recommend.

Another highlight is the Divine Comedy Room, which explores the Italian government's controversial commission of Dalí in 1950 to illustrate Italian poet Dante Alighieri's 'The Divine Comedy' - a narrative poem of the 14th century widely considered one of the greatest works of world literature. Dalí's series of 100 watercolours, illustrating the journey from Inferno to Purgatory to Paradise, took almost a decade to complete.

The Mirror Room presents yet another opportunity to immerse yourself in the world of Dalí, where viewers are exposed to the surrealist work in a 360-degree setting. It also makes a fantastic photo opp if you're looking to document your experience on social media, but if the mirrors in a fitting room are enough to make you queasy, maybe think twice before stepping into this room of reflections. I know all too well how confronting it can be - so if mirrors give you the ick, perhaps give this element a skip.

Review: Inside Dalí exhibition immerses you in the weird and wonderful world of Salvador Dalí
Photo credit: Supplied

Profiling one of the 20th century's greatest surrealist painters, Inside Dalí presents a stunningly informative and aesthetic amalgamation of cutting-edge technology, imagery, real objects and illusions for an entirely immersive experience for the whole family - and might just inspire you to bring back the moustache.

So take a trip, literally, into his mind - you may just like it there.

Inside Dalí is running from May 28 until July 3 at the Spark Arena in Auckland, and will be held in Christchurch from July 11 to August 26 at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand.