Dali and I: The Surreal Story by Stan Lauryssens, Nero Books, Melbourne, 2008, 292pp, $27.95. ISBN 9781863952316.
Stan Lauryssens is not an artist. He is not even an art expert. Despite the ≠title, Dali and I is not concerned with the surrealist movement, nor is it a ≠serious attempt to understand its most famous son, Salvador Dali. Dali and I is a book about money, and a very entertaining one at that.
Its author is a self-confessed scoundrel, drawn by accident into the world of art investment and dealing. As he quickly discovers, it is a world inhabited by men who care little for the esoteric value of an artistís work. To them, art is a commodity, and in the 1970s and í80s, the hottest commodity of all was the work of Salvador Dali. The fact that Lauryssens knows nothing about art, or dealing in art, is nowhere near as important as his ability to pitch convincingly to the wealthy about the skyrocketing value of Dali artworks. As one of the authorís early mentors puts it: ďTell me in all honesty Ė whatís the difference between a Dali and washing machine? There is no difference. Business is business and a deal is a deal.Ē
That is not to say that the man himself is not explored in the book. On his quest to separate as many gullible millionaires from their disposable income as possible, Lauryssens is confronted at every turn by Daliís formidable reputation as an innovator and eccentric par excellence. Everyone Lauryssens meets has another story about the bizarre excesses of Dali, each more outlandish than the last. The more he hears about the man whose very name had become a trademark, the more he becomes obsessed with finding the truth behind the legend.
Gradually, Lauryssens works his way closer and closer into the circle of Daliís advisers until he discovers the greatest con of all is being perpetrated by the artist himself. The Dali he finally meets is a spent force, bereft of inspiration and financially crippled by the proliferation of counterfeit Dali works, an industry that the artist himself helped perpetuate. By then Lauryssens is so embroiled in the massive trade in Dali fakes that he cannot avoid the unwanted attentions of duped clients and the long arm of the law.
While Lauryssens claims that his account is truthful, one suspects that in parts the line between reality and fantasy has been conveniently blurred. For the uninformed reader like myself, this doesnít matter one bit. Lauryssens paints himself as a likeable rogue with only the barest hint of introspection. His days as a high-flying art entrepreneur are recalled at a rollicking pace, in tabloid-like fashion. He succeeds handsomely in producing a very readable account of life at the edges of the surrealist movement at a time when it was at its most fashionable. Just donít expect to be better informed about modern art by the end of the book.
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