Surrealism as Marketing Tool

Salvador Dali was called by the anagram Avida Dollars by his detractors. At least those who thought he sold himself and his art out to the highest bidder. I experienced his penchant for greenbacks when, as art director for Screw, I invited Dali to design an entire issue – whatever he wanted to do (even blank pages with just his signature) was okay. Dali was apparently quite interested (like Joan Miro, he was an avid reader). He had just designed Paris Vogue and enjoyed the experience. When it came to the fee, our meager sum (I believe it was $1500 and all the copies he wanted) did not suffice – we heard from his representative that it was not even close.

Perhaps Dalí’s greatest creation was himself, an eccentric, self-aggrandizing showman assured of his own genius and always ready with a provocative quote (also, let’s not forget the mustache). Even early in his career, many fellow artists dismissed his flamboyant clowning, saying it denigrated his art. It was one reason he was expelled from the Surrealists after a mock trial in 1934. He was not above capitalizing on his image by shilling for various products, a practice that helped earn him the anagrammatic nickname ‘Avida Dollars,’ as coined by fellow artist André Breton. Products he endorsed included Lavin chocolate bars, Corona beer, Veterano brandy, the Saint Regis Hotel, and Alka-Seltzer antacids. – From

Dali certainly commercialized surrealism. Which put him at odds with many of his less materialistic colleagues. For the right price Dali did a fare share of advertisements, like this one for  Schiaparelli perfume (above) published in this 1943 View magazine (below top – cover by Pavel Tchelitchew), the voice of surrealism in the United States that was edited by Charles Henri Ford. In between the gallery advertisements for surrealist exhibitions and surreal manifestos where a lot of cosmetic full page ads, like the ones here.

When the price is right, everyone has one.


6 thoughts on “Surrealism as Marketing Tool

  1. Edward Foster

    I think I might be in the lion’s den here. But I think that Dali was riding the burgeoning trend of the commoditization of American art in the post-ww2 boom years. Just like Rembrant, the modern New York Nouveau Riche became his primary patrons; it’s just that the role was now filled by globalized companies. His still did amazing personal work, like his “Atomic Mysticism.” 
    Additionally, this was the birth of mass-media. Like any new media, the avant garde will seek to exploit it. This is what pop art did. He’s a transitionary firgure from European Modernism to American pop-art. 
    Great Post, I’d love to hear your first hand annecdotes of the man. Try and seperate fact from fiction a bit!

  2. Jeff Barton

    You could argue all day long as to who’s right and who’s wrong. But I believe that there is room for both kinds of artists. The esoteric, and the one who appeals to the masses. Dali reminds me of some of the entertainers of today. Like Madonna and Lady Gaga, talented, yet pushing thier brand of entertainment to the masses while smiling and perhaps winking all the way to the bank.