PARIS -- Was Salvador Dali -- who proclaimed himself a genius and "divine" -- one of the world's greatest artists or one of the world's biggest showoffs?

For years art critics wrest ling with this problem were forced to carve up his 70-year career into the "good" Sur realist years and the embarrassing "bad" decades -- when the mustachioed eccentric was accused of megalomania, catering to dictators and selling out through his numerous TV stints.

But a landmark exhibit at Paris' Pompidou Center -- featuring more than 120 paintings including the melted clocks of his famed 1931 work "The Persistence of Memory" alongside film work and TV appearances -- aims to re write the art history books. It shows how his mass-media period, shunned by critics, was in fact extremely influential and must be reconciled with his early work to fully understand the scope of his genius.

"The surrealists said that we shouldn't like his ‘bad' years... But we can no longer ignore their influence on art in the 50s, 60s and 70s," said curator Jean-Michel Bouhours.

Organ izers of the exhibit use reels of Dali's theatrical TV appearances to show the influence of his obsession with mass me dia, which began when he moved to the U.S. at the outbreak of World War II.

"Dali evolved with TV and cinema, and was the first to embrace mass media," said Bouhours, calling the artist "the initiator of the pop-art (movement).


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Works featured in the exhibit invoke the celebrity-ob sessed themes of pop art.

So if Dali was the precursor to something as major as pop art, which catapulted Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein into the spotlight, why has it been swept under the carpet for so long?

One of the reasons, the exhibit organizers suggest, is political.

In 1948, Dali moved back to his homeland, Spain, which was still under the iron fist of dictator Francisco Franco.

Dali, a former Communist, was criticized for courting Franco, painting a picture of his niece to win the fascist's favor to get permission to found a museum dedicated to Dali's work in Spain.

"Dali always had an obsession with dictators. But in Spain it got dangerous," said co-curator Thierry Dufrene. "In 1975, when the old Franco was already very frail, he ordered the execution of Basque activists. Dali re sponded on the radio, saying ‘It's very good -- we should kill even more of them.' This is part of the reason his reputation was tarnished in his later years."

The exhibit is the first to seek to show how Dali -- who died in 1989 aged 84 -- was a genius because of, not despite, his contradictions.

It will be on view until March 25.