My family has a penchant for strolling through museums. I've appreciated this more as I've gotten older, but as a kid I got bored easily. Pausing before a piece by Salvador Dalí was always an incredible relief, and I came to crave the fluid style and disturbing clutter of his work.
I think my interest in Dalí was first piqued by an animated film adaptation of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes's epic novel, that I saw when I was five years old. I loved it, and even forced my grandparents to endure several re-screenings, before they showed me a few Dalí works inspired by the novel. I was enthralled. Whenever I went to the Metropolitan Museum after that, I made a beeline for Dalí's work.
Dalí became an ever-present figure in my mind. I respected him for popularizing Surrealism, but as a strange kid, I was primarily captivated by his authentic, all-around strangeness. His brilliant mustache punctuated the haze of my daydreams and became a motif in my doodles. The more I learned about his life and work, the more I felt he’d ignited a peculiar phenomenon. In creating artwork concerned with dreams, he sent real tremors along the divide of fantasy and reality.
Yet there is one Dalí painting at the Met that I never liked much until recently. In Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus), Christ is suspended in front of an unfolded hypercube over a checkered floor. Dalí's wife and muse, Gala, stares up at Christ with an expression that could be awe, devotion, or religious fervor.
The idea of a hypercube was at first incoherent to me, but I'll try to explain. A hypercube is to the cube as the cube is to the square. Extending a cube into the fourth dimension creates a hypercube. A cube has six faces, and a hypercube has eight cells (a cell is a three-dimensional component of a four-dimensional object). This painting contains an unfolded hypercube; just as you can unfold the six faces of a three-dimensional cube into two-dimensional space to create the shape of a cross, you can unfold a hypercube into a three-dimensional crucifix.
Dalí uses this projection of a four-dimensional shape in three dimensions as a literal representation of the transition of Christ from one dimension to the other. This painting, it seems, is concerned with faith and logic; it asks us to think about the nature of and relationship between God, man, and science. It captures a surreal aspect of divine geometry while maintaining a reverential atmosphere. Dalí's work is rarely as balanced and obliquely clever as Corpus Hypercubus, a painting I can finally appreciate.
See more works by Salvador Dalí in the Museum's collection.