Fathers and Sons: Dalí, Giacometti, and the Legend of William Tell


  • Michael R. Taylor Virginia Museum of Fine Arts


Shortly after his arrival in New York in November 1934, Salvador Dalí was commissioned to produce a series of illustrated texts for The American Weekly, a popular magazine with a wide readership. The artist eventually published seven illustrated articles between December 1934 and July 1935, whose content reflected his impressions of daily life in the United States. The penultimate work in the series, entitled Gangsterism and Goofy Visions of New York, which appeared in the May 1935 issue, is filled with familiar motifs from the artist’s arsenal of dream imagery obtained via his paranoiac-critical method, such as the archer from the legend of William Tell or the pair of cherries dangling precariously over an apple with a wedge removed, which Dalí related to Jean-François Millet’s The Angelus. The compelling configuration of the cherries and apple can be understood as a humorous reference to the oscillating geometric forms in Alberto Giacometti’s Suspended Ball, of 1930-31, which had prompted Dalí to launch a concerted effort in 1931 to persuade his Surrealist colleagues to produce “symbolically functioning” objects that were intended to awaken repressed desires within the viewer. Dalí’s sudden resurgence of interest in Giacometti’s sculpture in New York was provoked by the month-long exhibition of a dozen works by the Swiss artist at the Julien Levy Gallery, which opened on December 1, 1934. For ten days this exhibition, entitled “Abstract Sculpture by Alberto Giacometti,” overlapped with Dalí’s own exhibition of twenty-two paintings. This brief, yet remarkable juxtaposition of Giacometti’s sculpture and Dalí’s paintings has been previously overlooked in the literature on both artists, yet seeing his latest paintings in this context provided the impetus for Gangsterism and Goofy Visions of New York, which imaginatively recasts Suspended Ball through the legend of William Tell, which for Dalí represented a castration myth that could be related to his unresolved conflict with his authoritarian father.

Author Biography

Michael R. Taylor, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Michael R. Taylor is a curator, author, and expert in modern and contemporary art with a focus on Dada, Surrealism, and the work of Marcel Duchamp. With a Ph.D in Art History from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, he was a Curator of Modern Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from 1997 until 2011, and Director of the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire from 2011 until 2015. In May 2015, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts announced its appointment of Dr. Taylor as Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education.