One of the most eccentric and talented figures of the avant-garde movement Surrealism, Salvador Dalí created in his paintings and works of art striking, unforgettable dream-like images that revolutionised 20th-century art. An egocentric genius with an obsessive imagination, Dal created in his works a personal mythical world, animated by recurrent symbols, complex associations and phantasmagorical scenes that, still today, impress viewers from around the world.
The Dance of Time I embodies one of Dalí's most powerful and potent motifs: the melting watch. First making its appearance in the painting Persistence of Memory, 1931(bought by the Museum of Modern Art in 1934), the melting clock or pocket watch, as it is known, has become emblematic of Dalí's interplay between the imaginary and real, and in turn has become a symbol of the surr ealist movement. Conceived in 1979 and first cast in 1984, this museum scale later version of The Dance of Time I is one of the finest sculptural examples of this theme, commanding a striking presence at 82 inches high.
Throughout his career Dalí experimented with softness and malleability, exploring the possibilities of manipulating and mutating recognizable objects to distort and disrupt the conventions of reality. Through the application of photographic precision, he created a world that looked palpable and touchable, despite its state of dissolution, blurring the boundaries between the unconscious and conscious. One of his most compelling means was transforming objects that were normally hard into soft, draped and often oozing counterparts, in an attempt to make what is set malleable; one of the most famed being the melting watch.
Dalí was captivated by the possibilities of actual time and remembered time and was drawn to the potential of its flexibility. Dalí's clock has become synonymous with mankind's fascination with the longevity of time and the mortality of life. This is particularly noted in the Persistence of Memory, where the image of ants crawling upon a closed pocket watch has become regarded as a sign of decay. When viewing the Persistence of Memory at the Julien Levy Gallery, New York, in 1932 critics were split on its meaning; some viewed the melting clocks as a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of mankind and our inevitable demise, whilst others interpreted it as Dalí's attempt to defy time, seeing it as an enduring image of man's triumph over the forces of deterioration. As seen in Dance of Time I Dalí freezes the clock's hands, bending them to such a degree that they cease to operate. By doing so Dalí encourages us to contemplate the notion of time and consider its fluidity, whilst also evoking a sensation of timelessness. Although the exact meaning of the melting clock may elude us, what remains a constant in Dal's work is his humorous imagination and unrelenting innovativeness.
In his autobiography, the artist narrated the accidental genesis of this memorable image:
'We had topped off our meal with a very strong Camembert, and after everyone had gone I remained for a long time seated at the table meditating on the philosophic problems of the "super-soft" which the cheese presented to my mind. I got up and went into the studio, where I lit the light in order to cast a final glance, as is my habit, at the picture I was in the midst of painting. This picture represented a landscape near Port Lligat, whose rocks were lighted by a transparent and melancholy twilight; in the foreground an olive tree with its branches cut, and without leaves. I knew that the atmosphere which I had succeeded in creating with this landscape was to serve as a setting for some idea, for some surprising image, but I did not in the least know what it was going to be. I was about to turn out the light, when instantaneously I "saw" the solution, I saw two soft watches, one of them hanging lamentably on the branch of the olive tree' (S. Dalí, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, New York, 1942, p.317).