When Dante met Dali: two influential artists combined in new Old Port exhibit

A new exhibit in the Old Port takes a look at the extraordinary encounter between two influential artists: Dante Alighieri and Salvador Dali.

Written more than 700 years ago by Italian writer Dante Alighieri, the Divine Comedy is a story of reflection, confinement, and quite literally, going to hell and back.

Seven centuries later, in the 1950s, master surrealist Salvador Dali was commissioned to create 100 pieces of art commemorating Dante's work, specifically the Divine Comedy.

Those print were brought to Montreal and put up on display at the Grand Quay.

The collective behind the installation, La Girafe en feu, says the story of the Divine Comedy bears a stark semblance of how the pandemic has impacted our lives.

“Seven hundred years later and it still talks to us,” said Felix Belanger, the creator of the exhibit. “It’s not that old, and Dali is always in, his work will never end.”

Belanger said Dante’s journey of self discovery and how he describes the evolution of humanity is something familiar to people.

“The story is about going to hell and I know that everyone knows what I’m talking about after a year-and-a-half thinking about our own hell,” he said.

The exhibit is split into the three areas described in the Divine Comedy: Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise.

Bellanger said purgatory is a time of reflection.

“What are our pleasures? Are they based on essential things or pleasure based on the superficial?”

And Dali’s complex and, at times, bizarre interpretation of the piece is what brought many fans in from across Montreal.

“After a hellish year of confinement we’ve had, it’s really really nice to be surrounded by painting that represent the repressed feelings we’ve been having,” said Genevieve Roy, whose been a Dali fan for most of her life.

“It’s a chance for people to just open, think, find inspiration, and be able to take that with them into this new opening… this new time we’re coming in to,” said Greg Parks, the exhibit producer.

Francine Grimaldi has traveled to Italy and back to see Dali’s work. Seeing it in her home town, she said, was breathtaking.

“You can see every detail. You can enter into the piece that he created. It’s moving, it’s fantastic, it’s beautiful, it’s rich. The colours, the technique… fabulous!”

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