A review of Salvador Dali & Andy Warhol by Torsten Otte (Scheidegger & Spiess, 2015)

Who knew that Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol were art bros? When they met and hung out in the mid-60s and ‘70s, Dali’s star was fading while Warhol’s was shooting up to the heavens.
Yet, on reflection, their association makes perfect sense. Both were among the last century’s most famous art celebrities who drew public and media attention to themselves. Both men’s love of publicity is legendary. Warhol once said, “Publicity is like eating peanuts. Once you start you can’t stop.” Salvador Dali & Andy Warhol: Encounters in New York and Beyond, by Berlin attorney and art historian, Torsten Otte, reveals that Dali and Warhol had many encounters in New York and beyond. Their meetings were known only in a very small circle. He shows in this definitively-researched volume that each artist admired the other’s personality and practice. While Dali followed Warhol’s career with interest, he had a low opinion of pop art. Warhol held Dali in high esteem and once said, in his deadpan way, “Dali’s one of my favorite artists because he’s so big.”
Otte seems less the author of this hefty, 400-page book than its compiler. Every meeting and assertion about their respective entourages and art practices is annotated to the nth degree. Each citation, rather than appearing at the back of the book, actually appears along the margin of each page. Otte’s obsessive, almost eight-year, goal of bringing this little-known area of art history to light began with his phone interview with Isabelle Collin Dufresne (aka Ultra Violet) in August, 2008. He interviewed over 120 art figures who knew and worked with both men. He was supported in his efforts by the Centre for Dalinian Studies and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and the Warhol Film Project at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The book is divided into six sections: Biographies, Personalities and Biographical Parallels, Entourage, Work, Encounters and Views of Each Other’s Work and Personality. Befitting the case with two such fascinating, often outrageous figures, there are many fascinating quotes and incidents noted throughout. Dip into almost any page and you’ll find some new tidbit, particularly the sections on Entourage, Work and Views of Each Other’s Work. It’s an experience like eating peanuts. One sample revelation is that their earliest meeting was in the mid-’50s at the St. Regis Hotel in New York, where Dali held court at teatime each afternoon. Warhol, at the time, was a window dresser at the fashionable 5th Avenue shop, Bonwit Teller. He brought some drawings he had made of shoes and Dali reportedly told him he had talent and should set his sights higher. Otte suggests that Dali may have spurred Warhol’s later career. Both men also made films and published newspapers to further their careers–Dali’s effort was the hilarious Dali News which informed Warhol’s decision to start Interview magazine.
Otte’s art pilgrimage is to be commended for his total commitment in unearthing this rich trove of material. It lends notable detail to the picture we and future generations will have of these two art personalities. Spanish artist Victor Mira once wrote that Warhol and Joseph Beuys were the two cleverest sons of Dali. Might it be said that Warhol and Dali’s cleverest son is Jeff Koons?

Tom Mullaney Chicago Editor (Retr’d)

Volume 31 number 2, November / December 2016 p 35

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