Salvador Dalí and Omaha’s Own Museo Latino


James Knowles

Dalí’s depiction of the mythic Cerberus is just one of 143 of the great artist’s prints currently on display at Omaha’s Museo Latino. Photo courtesy of El Museo Latino

Salvador Dalí has been in Omaha for months now. Not really, of course—he’s been dead for decades—but his artwork, surreal like no other and truly an extension of himself, has been hosted at El Museo Latino in the exhibit “Stairway to Heaven” since April 2. This has provided the chance to not only get a rare taste of a master’s work, but also of the Midwest’s premier Latino museum, which will continue to be a beacon of artistic talent long after Dalí’s exhibit departs on August 14.

“Stairway to Heaven” consists of two separate bodies of Dalí’s work: his 43 illustrations for “Les Chants de Maldoror;” and the three-part, 100-piece collection of illustrations for Dante’s “The Divine Comedy.”

Salvador Dalí produced art like no other, so it figures that a room filled almost exclusively with his work gives an experience just as rare.

Dalí’s illustrations for “Les Chants de Maldoror” line an open corridor left of the room’s entrance, just past a brief biography of the noted artist. The provided details of his life are interesting and well-composed, but nothing could describe the man more accurately than his own work—and the 43-piece collection is there to deliver.

“Les Chants de Maldoror” is a “shocking” 19th century book written by Comte de Lautréamont, which pairs exceedingly well with Dalí’s transgressive and provocative persuasions, as well as the broader Surrealist movement (Park West Gallery).

Here, Dalí’s style is too abstract for any of the 43 illustrations to depict specific scenes from the book. Instead, they are looser interpretations of its themes created through the always-unique Salvador Dalí lens. Many instances of Dalí’s most famous imagery can be seen throughout the collection, which becomes much more enjoyable when viewed as self-consistent rather than self-referential.

At a count of 100 prints, Dalí’s illustration of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” is more than double the size of “Les Chants de Maldoror” and takes up a majority of the space in the exhibit. Like the book, it is split into three sections: Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise.

The indispensable and deeply religious piece of Italian literature from the early 14th century is a far less obvious work to be paired with Dalí. Despite this, the combination is a sight to behold, as Dalí takes a slightly (only slightly) more subdued approach to directly adapt moments from the book. The inherent wonder and unfathomability of heaven, hell and the place in the middle allow Dalí to create images that are mind-bending.

Every single one of the 143 prints on display has a unique corresponding label, and while in many exhibits these often offer more trivial knowledge or observations, they’re indispensable here to any who might otherwise have a hard time deciphering Dalí’s deep and complicated art.

Additionally, each of these labels is written in both English and Spanish– standard practice for El Museo Latino, which has always strived towards inclusivity for visitors, as well as in the art displayed.

“Diversity, inclusion and accessibility are just at the forefront of everybody’s language and interest and hopes, and we’ve always had that,” says Magdalena García, the founder and executive director of El Museo Latino.

The museum has exhibited big names from Frida Kahlo to Pablo Picasso, yet has never been dragged away by that prestige from the smaller scale of local artists and community. The first exhibition at the museum was of local Omaha artists, and to this day artwork from the community has been hosted right alongside world famous creators.

“It’s not what color you are, it’s not who you are– the category is ‘artist’,” says García.

Diversity can be found even within the local artists exhibited.

“It’s been obviously a majority Latino, but the 100% makeup has been a combination of diversity,” says García, “there’s the misconception that we only serve the Latino community, which is not true.”

García views the museum’s community as not just Omaha’s Latino population, but the city as a whole. Despite her strong attempts at engagement, though, she feels that it’s not entirely reciprocated. Museum attendance from other parts of the city isn’t as high as it could be, even with big name exhibits like Dalí’s “Stairway to Heaven.”

“I do hope that people who love to visit museums and arts exhibitions would take the time to come, even if it’s at the Museo Latino,” García says.

The words “even if” don’t do justice to the rich culture, polished exhibits and affordable tickets of El Museo Latino. Despite the disconnect, García– and the museum itself– remain optimistic and passionate.

“We’re here, and we hope to be able to continue our programming. I love what we’re doing– it’s way too much work not to love what you’re doing,” García laughs. “In a blink, it’s been over 28 years.”