April Fools’ Day makes it the perfect time to celebrate one of the most exuberant pranks ever played by Salvador Dalí on Yoko Ono, and sadly for Yoko Ono, it’s all very much true. Over the years Dalí has been described as many things, and now we can safely add fiendish to that list. Whether he was walking his buccaneering pet anteater onto the set of The Dick Cavett Show or filling a Rolls Royce with half a tonne of Cauliflowers, Dalí was an artist who certainly took surrealism beyond the canvas. His treatment of Yoko Ono was almost cynically surreal, but you’d have to argue that she only has herself to blame on this occasion.
Commercialism and art often form a dichotomy, but Dalí very much agreed with the Andy Warhol school of thought that, “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” The man simply loved making money, so much so that he even earned himself the nickname ‘Avida Dollars’, which is both an anagram of his name and a signifier of the fact that the surrealist legend was willing to star in Alka Seltzer commercials for the right money.
Therefore, multimillionaire Yoko Ono and her naïve obsession with his surrealism presented Dalí with somewhat of a money-making opportunity. The Japanese artist wanted a piece of Dalí that she could truly call her own. She thought her $10,000 would prise her a hair from his iconic lobster-like moustache, to be presented in its own pretty little box (which in itself is more ludicrous than a plan hatched by a box of bewildered frogs), but what she got was a blade of grass in a secondhand receptacle.
The French actress, singer and all-around renaissance woman, Amanda Lear, first met Dalí in 1965, she was 18 and the painter was 61 when she became engaged in at least some sort of capacity with the sexually and spiritually enigmatic artist. Speaking to French magazine VSD, the one-time muse revealed her part in the utterly berserk escapade, “Throughout his life, Dali could never resist it when someone waved a cheque under his nose.”
When Yoko Ono made him the offer for something unique, he simply couldn’t refuse. However, Lear explains that he became concerned that Yoko Ono was, in fact, a witch and he feared that she would cast a spell on him, much in the same way that David Bowie at the height of his cocaine delirium would store his hair, nail clippings and urine in a secure location for fear of occult intervention.
Dalí’s curse-avoiding work-around was simple and ingenious. “He sent me out into the garden to get a blade of dried grass and I put it in a pretty little box,” Lear explained. “The nitwit paid $10,000,” Lear added, “Dalí loved swindling people.”
In its own weird way, the blade of grass represents a very unique piece of art, which after all, is what Yoko Ono wanted in the first place. She might not have been able to hex the surrealist with it, but every picture you can find of Yoko Ono outdoors the lawns surrounding her are always of the lushest green.
In short, Dalí’s fiendish ways prove that he was even balletic in the art of the con.