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Salvador Dalí Show on View at Hillel

Works commemorate the rebirth of Israel

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Aliyah: The Rebirth of Israel by Salvador Dali at The Rubin-Frankel Gallery, Boston University Florence and Chafetz Hillel House

Aliyah: The Rebirth of Israel features a complete set of prints by Salvador Dalí. Photos by Kimberly Curhan (CAS’15)

One of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century, Salvador Dalí is best known for his work as a surrealist. But an intimate show currently on view at the Florence & Chafetz Hillel House presents a fascinating series of lithographs from later in his career. Titled Aliyah: The Rebirth of Israel, the collection of 25 signed, colored reproductions depicts the history of the Jewish people’s return to Israel. Dalí was commissioned to paint the series in 1968 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the founding of the modern state of Israel.

While 250 copies of the Aliyah lithographs were created from Dalí’s original mixed-media paintings, this set is unique, says Rubin-Frankel Gallery director Holland Dieringer (CFA’05), because it’s one of the few complete sets still in existence. Most others have been broken up and sold over the years.

Dieringer says that while most art historians and critics focus on the artist’s work between 1929 and 1939, during the Paris Surrealist movement, his graphic commissions from the ’60s and ’70s merit serious consideration. She notes that Dalí, who was born in 1904 in the Catalonian region of Spain, “wasn’t part of the founding of Israel cause. In fact, he was very apolitical.” But, as the project stands, “he did a fantastic job.”

Aliyah: The Rebirth of Israel has traveled to various campuses around the country. It debuted at the Marcus Hillel Center at Emory University, which organized and curated the show. It has since been to Hillel centers at Brown University, the University of Washington, and the University of Colorado, Denver. Joel Udwin (SMG’14), president of the Hillel House student board, heard about the exhibition a year ago and brought it to Dieringer’s attention.

Aliyah: The Rebirth of Israel by Salvador Dali at The Rubin-Frankel Gallery, Boston University Florence and Chafetz Hillel House

Dalí’s lithographs were created in 1967.

The Aliyah lithographs relate the Diaspora and the Jewish people’s return to their homeland. As David Blumenthal, an Emory University professor of Judaic studies, writes in the exhibition’s commentary, “The Hebrew word aliyah means ‘ascent’; it is used to describe going up steps, or climbing a mountain…In secular Jewish thought, aliyah means ‘to go to live in the Land of Israel’ and, after the establishment of the State, ‘to go to live in the State of Israel.’ In this modern sense, aliyah means a commitment to live the life of the Jewish people in its ancestral land, no matter what the hardships. After centuries of oppression in the exile, aliyah is a commitment to the rebirth of the Jewish people, to the Renaissance of the Jewish spirit, in its own space.”

Dalí’s lithographs, with their images of joy, drama, and fortitude, are colored in vibrant shades of blue, yellow, and purple, along with more subtle browns and grays. Shadowy, amorphous figures and bright slashes of blood red lend many of the pieces a poignant humanity. Embedded symbols, such as a Star of David, fragments of Hebrew text, barbed wire, and a swastika, evoke powerful visual reminders of the circumstances leading up to the creation of Israel in 1948. In the end, Aliyah celebrates homecoming and the triumph of life over death.

Aliyah: The Rebirth of Israel by Salvador Dali, Plate #10

Plate #10’s caption, “Let them have dominion,” is from Genesis 1:26.

Dieringer believes the show has broad appeal. “Hillel and the Rubin-Frankel Gallery are not just for Jewish students or for the Jewish community, but for the larger community,” she says. “This show for us isn’t about taking a political stance; it’s about, first of all, being able to give people the opportunity to see Salvador Dalí prints that are rarely seen.” The collection includes a guide and podcast by Blumenthal that provides context for the works within Dalí’s oeuvre as well as information about the Zionist background of each lithograph.

Many viewers familiar only with Dalí’s surrealist masterpieces like The Persistence of Memory will be surprised by the works in Aliyah—these prints have a kind of loose expressiveness not seen in much of his earlier work. The artist also experimented with unusual techniques to create interesting effects. The lithographs are reproduced from the original paintings by Dalí, who “pioneered the use of what he dubbed ‘bulletism’: shooting the plates with paint-filled bullets using an antique arquebus,” according to the accompanying exhibition guide.

Aliyah: The Rebirth of Israel is on display in the Rubin-Frankel Gallery, Florence & Chafetz Hillel House, 213 Bay State Rd., through July 31. The gallery is open Monday through Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday, from 3 to 9 p.m. The exhibition is free and open to the public. Learn more about the collection here. Find out more about the gallery here. Student groups and organizations looking to set up a tour or host an event for the exhibition should contact the gallery.

Erin Thibeau can be reached at ethibeau@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @erinthibeau.

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