Normality in a Surrealist’s Life

This summer, I had the opportunity to interview Joan Mann, owner of Howard Mann Art Center in Lambertville, NJ. The interview turned into a two-hour, delightful conversation about famous artists of the early twentieth century – specifically Salvador Dali – who Joan and Howard Mann were great friends with.

When I arrived back at USF St. Petersburg for the Fall semester, I walked around the Dali museum on campus, reminded of Joan Mann’s stories.

As I made my way through the museum looking for the film documentary about Dali’s wife, Gala, I glanced at his hanging masterpieces and got a flashback of Joan pointing out a personalized painting from Dali that hung on the wall beside her desk. Joan Mann made Dali feel real to me –more than just a surrealist or a filmmaker – but an average person who was inspired by his wife.

And then I found it: Gala, a documentary film by Elena Dimitrievna Diakonova. I watched it three times.

The film highlights Gala’s extensive influence on Dali’s career. Dali used Gala as a model in several of his works. One commentator said that in a way, Gala taught Dali the technique he used in his paintings. She also read to Dali while he worked.

Besides the shortened interpretation of Gala’s dynamic persona in the film, what stuck out to me the most is the love that Dali and Gala shared for each other.

Gala was irreplaceable to Dali.

“Had I not found Gala…I wouldn’t be called normal,” said Dali.

An information board in the exhibit expressed the inner depths of the couple’s love: “Gala was ‘my intimate truth, my double, my one’ and he [Dali] developed with her an intertwined public persona, signing his paintings “Gala Salvador Dali.”

Immediately I think of Joan.

Joan Mann lost her husband several years ago, and I cannot help but compare Joan with Dali: both loved and lost, but their true loves impacted a huge part of their lives and left a legacy of love and friendship that is expressed through the art collections in the Dali Museum and the Howard Mann Art Center.