Rescued artwork of Salvador Dalí to be exhibited in Fullerton

Prints from Salvador Dalí's "The Pantagruel Suite" at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton.
Prints from Salvador Dalí’s “The Pantagruel Suite” at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton, where an exhibit of the surrealist’s works opens April 25.
(Callie Prendiville Johnson)

Last month, the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton filmed a special video of staff carefully pulling sculptures from cardboard boxes. Packing peanuts tumbled out as precariously bubbled-wrapped bundles were removed. The protective material was pulled back to reveal curious figures, like the cast of a gold goat and a headless female form. The works were by renowned Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, part of the latest exhibit at the Muck.

Curated by Annabella Pritchard, the exhibit, opening to the public on April 25, includes 50 signed pieces by Dalí, best known for his instantly recognizable and often parodied paintings, such as “The Persistence of Memory.”

The works on display at the Muck, including “Woman Aflame,” “Space Elephant” and “The Pantagruel Suite,” come from the personal collection of Benjamin Feldman, whose serendipitous discovery of the pieces saved them from a dumpster fate.


“The rescue of this collection is a story unto itself and worthy of the surrealist bent of the artist,” said Farrell Hirsch, chief executive officer of the Muckenthaler.

Salvador Dalí's "Woman Aflame" on exhibit at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton.
(Callie Prendiville Johnson)

Feldman is a Washingtonian and no stranger to treasure hunting. Most weekends he can be found exploring the hollers of Appalachia. It was through his excursions that he came upon the collection, which had been in storage for nearly 20 years.

“There was man who had passed away who had these in his shed,” said Callie Prendiville Johnson, communications director at the Muckenthaler. “One of Ben’s friends in Appalachia said, ‘I found these things and I am going to throw them away unless you want them.’”

Feldman discovered a trove of signed, lesser known works from Dalí. Once he realized what he had on his hands, he reached out to Pritchard, a Fullerton art curator with connections to the Muckenthaler.

“Woman Aflame” and “Space Elephant” are the most recognized 3-dimensional works in the collection, while the lithographs of “The Pantagruel Suite” depict father and son Gargantua and Pantagruel, inspired from a series of novels drafted in 16th-century France by François Rabelais.

Besides painting, Dalí was known for graphic arts, film, sculpture, photography and poetry. When he began his art career, he was influenced by Impressionism and the Renaissance masters but began to dabble in Cubism before joining the Surrealist group in 1929. The Surrealist movement began in Europe after World War I, with artists exploring the unconscious mind as a form of expression. Dalí’s work often plumbed the subconscious and dreams as well as sexuality, religion and science. “The Persistence of Memory,” completed in 1931, is among the most famous surrealist paintings in the world.

“Dalí is a name that is instantly recognizable to even the casual art fan. In terms of 20th-century artists, this is a household name.” said Johnson. “The fact that these works were almost destroyed makes them all the more precious.”

"Space Elephant," a sculpture by Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí, at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center.
“Space Elephant,” a sculpture by Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí, will go on exhibit at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton on April 25.
(Callie Prendiville Johnson)

The exhibit comes at the start of the centennial of Surrealism. The show will run from April 25 until June 28, with a live musical performance from Elvis Schoenberg and Orchestre Surreal on June 27, closing the show’s last week.

Multiple points of serendipity landed this collection at the Muck, Hirsch said, and staff hopes the Orange County community will come take advantage of this special exhibit.

“It’s one of those rare moments when the story behind a great art show rivals the art itself.”