The Secret of the Hanging Egg: Salvador Dalí at the Menil

Nov 5, 2015 – Jun 19, 2016
Main Building

Salvador Dalí’s Œufs sur le Plat sans le Plat (Eggs on a Plate without the Plate), on loan from the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, joins the Menil’s renowned Surrealist holdings. Dalí completed Eggs on a Plate without the Plate in the early 1930s. He visited Paris often then and was in close contact with Surrealist artists like Max Ernst, René Magritte, and Man Ray. Introduced to the Surrealist group by fellow Spanish painter Joan Miró, he was accepted by the movement’s leader, Andre Breton. Breton wrote the preface for Dalí’s first solo exhibition in Paris in 1929, and Dalí contributed the frontispiece to Breton’s Second Surrealist Manifesto the following year. Dalí shared with Breton the belief that the subconscious offered a higher form of reality and, stoked by theories of Sigmund Freud, a strong interest in dreams, desires, and taboos.

By the end of the 1930s, however ideological differences (and perhaps Dalí’s penchant for publicity) drove the two apart. In 1939, Breton officially excommunicated the Spanish painter from Surrealism. But, by the end of the 20th century Dalí’s name would become almost synonymous with Surrealism as his fame expanded in the decades following his official break with the movement.

At once an eerie landscape and an even more disquieting still life, Eggs on a Plate without the Plate includes one of Dalí’s most familiar motifs, a melting watch. The watch hangs beneath an ear of corn and beside a plate fried of eggs, all meticulously rendered. A third egg hovers, suspended by a string, like the watch itself. The slippery softness of the eggs and the drooping timepiece contrast starkly to the angular building, which serves as a platform for the strange assemblage of objects. The building’s only visible opening reveals two figures—tiny when compared to the eggs and the corn—who gaze out onto a desolate sulfurous landscape. The painting’s rich imagery and masterfully realist, almost miniaturist, style of painting typify Dalí’s approach to Surrealism, one that adapted old master techniques to depict hallucinatory visions.

The Menil Collection will place this work into the context of its own Surrealist holdings, including the artists with whom Dalí collaborated in Paris, as well as contemporary artists who continue to make work in the Surrealist tradition, such as Robert Gober and Steve Wolfe. (Visitors are often surprised to learn that the museum holds no painting by Dalí—only a single drawing, Gangsterims and Goofy Visions of New York, which is seldom on display.) On view within the museum’s Surrealism Gallery, this special presentation will also include examples of Dalí’s contributions to rare early publications from the library’s special collections.

The Secret of the Hanging Egg is organized by Clare Elliott, assistant curator.

This exhibition is generously supported by the City of Houston.