“Dalí used to say that my father was more ‘Dalinian’ sometimes than himself,” says Christine Argillet. Her father is the late Pierre Argillet, prominent art collector and publisher of Salvador Dalí’s etchings, books, prints and other original works, and whose friendship with the artist lasted from their meeting in 1934 until Dalí’s death in 1989. It was under Argillet’s suggestion that the artist turned out plates inspired by hippies and Greek mythology, and illustrated poems by Apollinaire and Ronsard, as well as Goethe’s Faust and von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs.
“Both had a passion for literature, poetry, philosophy and would share books,” she says of her father and the famous Surrealist. “They would spend long hours discussing projects [and] happenings and would love to surprise each other.”
As a child, Christine Argillet spent a lot of time around Dalí and his wife Gala, particularly during summer vacation. She bore witness to aspects of his ever-evolving process, watching in fascination as Dalí used the body of an octopus found on the beach to render the copperplate image for Medusa (1963).
She also enjoyed Dalí’s legendary eccentricity and life-as-art antics.
“One day when I was eight years old, my father and I were waiting for Dalí in his studio. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something moving. It appeared to be a floating ashtray,” she recalls. “Then, I realized Dalí had attached the ashtray to the back of a tortoise, and it was slowly crawling along.”
She also remembers a baffling incident in which he appeared to make his mustache wave back and forth by applying a potion made from “mysterious herbs.”
“With Dalí,” says Argillet, “everything was strange and possible. He was working magic all the time.”
Through August 10, Argillet will be exhibiting works for sale from her extensive art collection. It includes more than 100 verified, signed works by Dalí (it’s important to authenticate Dalí’s prints, as many were fraudulently produced post-1980) as well as other Spanish masters, including Miró and Picasso.
The exhibition-cum-sale, free to view and open to the public, takes place at The Shops at La Cantera, under the aegis of the Austin-based Russell Collection Fine Art. On the evenings of August 9 and 10, Argillet will attend public receptions, where prospective buyers can engage her in person.
In addition to this show in San Antonio, Argillet’s Spanish Masters collection will travel to Atlanta, San Diego and to Montreal this fall.
Here’s a slight digression: As an entertaining re-introduction to Dalí’s spirited persona, I recommend you watch Jodorowsky’s Dune. Frank Pavich’s documentary recounts the quest of Chilean-born filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, director of El Topo and La Montaña Sagrada, to bring Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic to the screen in the early 1970s.
Among Jodorowsky’s pre-production brainstorms, which have to be seen to be believed, he tapped Dalí to portray the Emperor of the Universe.
The following mutual seduction makes for one of the film’s funniest, most affecting chapters, a bizarrely heartwarming tale of an oddball friendship. Dalí, true to form, made outlandish conditions, including personal use of helicopters, a role for his gender-ambiguous friend Amanda Lear and the highest fee per-minute for any actor in the history of cinema. Jodorowsky agreed to everything. The possibility of their combined absurdities, even recounted 40 years after the fact, is powerful food for the imagination.
I asked Argillet about Dalí’s sense of his own celebrity, his life as art and whether this would-be Jodorowsky collaboration reflected, in part, a wacky business acumen.
Argillet told me that Dalí loved filmmaking, having worked with Buñuel, Hitchcock and Warhol, and said that it’s “no surprise that he would love to be involved [with] Jodorowsky. … Being on stage and attracting journalists’ attention by any means was his goal.” She added that her father was never thrilled by this preoccupation, believing that Dalí’s self-generated PR machine “would hide the real, great artist he was!”
As to his business acumen, though, Argillet jokes that he “had really none. Fame and money were a fun game to Dalí.”