Salvador Dalí. Poetry of America, 1943. Oil on canvas, 116 x 79 cm.
Una de los primeros samplings de la marca Coca-Cola en la historia del arte.
Whether implausibly long or ultra-short, you’ve got to love the titles of so many of Salvador Dali’s works. Here, in “Poetry of America” – chosen today because the sweat of those Packers and Steelers is barely patted dry from Sunday’s Super Bowl – Dali depicts American football as a kind of poetic dance, choreographed on a barren “playing field” – the players poised almost as if in a ballet, complete with codpiece.
Dali painted this work (the original is in the collection of the Teatro-Museu Dali in Figueras and considered the collection of Salvador himself) while he and Gala were in exile in the United States during World War II. Through Dali’s surrealist lens, popular sporting events such as football and baseball represented the poetry of American popular culture. Dali never comprehended the strategy of either game very well; instead, his creative mind was captivated by the pageantry, the costumes, and the artful maneuverings of the athletes.
He seems to pay special tribute to Black athleticism by the football-clutching African-American figure emerging trophy-like from the back of one of the main players, but at the same time is widely acknowledged as representing Dali’s concern or premonition of forthcoming conflict in America between the races. This is symbolized by a map of Africa hanging from the watch tower in the background – soft and misshapen, as if in uncertain transition.
A remarkable detail in “Poetry of America” is the wonderfully realistic-looking bottle of Coca-Cola dangling from a player’s chest, and which then morphs into another supremely American accoutrement – the ubiquitous telephone. This is yet another example of Dali having been well ahead of his time, since the appearance of such a pop-art icon (the Coke bottle) in this 1943 canvas came some two decades before including such everyday objects in paintings became fashionable among pop artists such as Andy Warhol in the 1960s.
It may be anyone’s guess what the empty leather helmet and lit candle it encloses were intended to convey, though a Freudian filter placed over our interpretative lens might find a potential sexual allusion here to virility, what with the dark empty space and the phallic candle!
I’ve noted quite a few times now how Dalinian Continuity connects many of Dali’s paintings, and here again we see evidence of it in the naked male figure at left, holding a tall pole or lance. This detail would be echoed 16 years later in the four naked men, with virtually identical haircuts, grasping the same prop in Dali’s immense “Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.” Both paintings pay tribute to the influence of America on Dali, each in their own poetic and Dalinian way.