Curator, Anne Umland: Salvador Dalí's 1931 painting The Persistence of Memory is a very small, cabinet-size picture filled with exquisite, meticulously rendered detail. It is probably for its hallucinatory, hyper-realistic atmosphere that this work is one of the most iconic Surrealist paintings.
The Surrealists were a revolutionary movement with the goal of destabilizing societal, political, cultural norms. The Surrealists were deeply interested in dream states, in Freud, in alternative realities to provoke, to stimulate, to overturn people's expectations. And what Dalí did was arrive at this conflation of things that both look so real, palpable, touchable almost, and yet are in a state of dissolution. Things that normally would be hard are draped, oozing, soft. So is this large pink, fleshy, vaguely anthropomorphic form that sprawls across the foreground that in fact, resembles the artist himself.
Dalí liked things in this state of becoming, unbecoming, with ants crawling over the golden watch in the lower left corner, and again these sagging, limpid, loose, floppy time pieces. Dalí once, in fact, referred to the melting watches as the "camembert of time," which has all sorts of wonderfully smelly connotations. Their utility is completely thwarted in this vivid dreamscape that is as much about an interior state of mind as anything that you'd experience in everyday life.