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'Salvador Dalí’s Stairway to Heaven' Coming to Bradbury Art Museum


JONESBORO – "Salvador Dalí’s Stairway to Heaven" opens at Bradbury Art Museum on the campus of Arkansas State University at 5 p.m. Thursday, March 7. The exhibition, curated by David S. Rubin, presents a comparative study of two of Dalí's most celebrated portfolios, his book illustrations for the Comte de Lautréamont's "Les Chants de Maldoror" (1868-69) and Dante Alighieri's "The Divine Comedy" (c. 1308-20).

Les Chants de Maldoror (The Songs of Maldoror) was a favorite literary work among the Surrealists, many of whom found beauty in art and literature devoted to the pursuit of the irrational and the unorthodox. A poetic novel of sorts that unfolds in a non-linear fashion, Les Chants de Maldoror describes the violent and perverse character of a despicable protagonist who has renounced God, humanity and conventional morality.

When Dalí illustrated Les Chants de Maldoror in the early 1930s, he identified as a Surrealist. Like his paintings of the period, his illustrations to Lautréamont's text are filled with images of violence and debauchery. During his Surrealist period, Dalí and his wife Gala were known to host wild orgiastic parties, hence it is no surprise that he was attracted to themes of debauchery in Les Chants de Maldoror.

Dante's The Divine Comedy is considered to be one of the most important works in the history of Italian literature.  Although it too is a poetic narrative, The Divine Comedy is told sequentially, taking its readers along with Dante on a journey through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory and Paradise. Allegorically, it is often interpreted as representing the trajectory of the soul towards God.

By the time Dalí's illustrations for The Divine Comedy were published in 1960, Dalí had renounced Surrealism and become a born-again Catholic. In 1951, while working on watercolors that were the basis for his Divine Comedy illustrations, Dali released his "Mystical Manifesto," in which he explains that the purpose of mysticism is to achieve "mystical ecstasy" and "paradisiacal happiness." It is thus easy to see how he identified with Dante as the author journeys from hell to heaven in The Divine Comedy.

The exhibition, on loan from the collection of the Park West Museum, is organized by Carole Sorell Incorporated, and is presented with generous support from the Park West Foundation. 

Over the course of the next two years, Salvador Dali’s Stairway to Heaven will tour to eight art museums throughout the United States.

Special Programs and Activities

Several corresponding admission-free programs will be available during the exhibition.  Most notably, the curator, David S. Rubin, will visit the museum and present a public talk on Tuesday, April 9, at 2:30 p.m. (Cancelled, 4-4-2019).

Other events include two workshops. A Reality Reassembled Workshop will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 10. Echoing traditional and contemporary collage techniques, workshop participants will reassemble conventional scenes into surreal works of art. All supplies will be provided and all abilities are welcomed.

An illustration workshop, Draw like Dali, will be available at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 31.  After viewing Salvador Dali’s illustrations for The Divine Comedy and Les Chants de Maldoror, participants will learn how to use Dali’s technique to create illustrations of their own design. Both workshops will be held at BAM Studio in Fowler Center. Seating is limited to 12 participants so reservations are recommended and can be made by calling (870) 972-3765 or visiting BradburyArtMuseum.org and clicking on the Events tab.

On Thursday, March 14, at 6 p.m. a public tour of the exhibition, Salvador Dali’s Stairway to Heaven, will be offered at Bradbury Art Museum. The tour will include a guided discussion about prevalent themes and techniques within the exhibition. Interactive activities will be incorporated and suitable for all ages.

Bradbury Art Museum will present "9 Rings: An Improvised Look at Dali and The Divine Comedy."  Visitors will witness art and theatre collide in a surrealistic journey through Dante’s Inferno performed by A-State Improv. This public event will be held in the museum on Thursday, March 28, at 5:30 p.m.

Bradbury Art Museum along with meditation leader Christopher Earnhart will host Dream like Dali, a meditative exploration of Salvador Dali’s methods for accessing the subconscious mind. The public event is scheduled for Thursday, April 4, at 5:30 p.m.

The final event for this exhibition will be Celebrating the Arts, held at BAM in conjunction with the annual Delta Symposium, on Thursday, April 11, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. It will begin with music by Wilkinson-James along with a song-circle open to local musicians, followed by readings by Jo McDougall and Thomas Williams. This event, moderated by Khem Aryal, assistant professor of English, is open to the public.

BAM will be closed from March 16 through 25 in observation of the university’s spring break.  The museum will re-open on Tuesday, March 26, and Salvador Dalí’s Stairway to Heaven will run through Thursday, April 11.

 BAM hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, noon to 7 p.m. Thursday, noon to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, and by appointment. The museum is closed on Monday and when the university is not in session. The exhibition, public events and the reception are admission-free and open to the public.  For additional information please visit BradburyArtMuseum.org or contact the museum at (870) 972-2567.

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Salvador Dali
The Divine Comedy, Inferno, Giants
wood engraving in color
on Rives paper after a watercolor
10 x 7.125 inches
Courtesy of
Park West Museum/Foundation