Bizarre. Weird. Strange. Imaginative. Creative. Salvador Dali – the man and his works – has been described in numerous, oftentimes conflicting, ways. One of the most complex and controversial figures of the 20th century, Salvador Dali’s work is seen often as shocking as well as brilliant. However one views his work, it is impossible not to come away from a visit to The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, impressed by his artistic flexibility, creative genius, and prolific career.
The Dali is an unparalleled collection of one of the most celebrated artists of all time. The Museum, located in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg, offers a collection of over 2,400 Salvador Dali works, including 300 oil paintings, watercolors and drawings as well as more than 2,100 prints, photographs, posters, textiles, sculptures and objects d’art. The works represent every moment and medium of this artistic genius’s creative life.
The Dali’s collection is one of the most acclaimed collections of a single modern artist in the world. The Museum was founded with a core collection of works from A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, who bought their first Dali painting in 1943. In the mid-1970’s the Morses decided to donate their extensive collection. But it wasn’t until the St. Petersburg community rallied support to bring the collection to the area and the museum opened in 1982.
Throughout his lifetime, Dali never limited himself to any particular style of art or any media. Always on the cutting edge, he was continually evolving himself and his art as he moved from the Early Period to the Surreal to the Classic Periods. A visit to the Dali Museum provides numerous examples of each of these periods.
The Early Period was a time during which Dali was influenced by many other international artistic movements. Impressionism, Cubism, Realism, and Dutch Baroque are only some of the styles that Dali studied. A short-lived Transitional Period saw him working to develop his own artistic style, very much influenced by well-known surrealist and cubist artists. During this time Dali was highly influenced by Freud’s theories. He often depicted his dreams in an “ultra-realistic, photographic style” on canvas. Dali was to become the center of the Surrealist movement. His Classic Period reflects the artist’s focus on religious and scientific themes. It was during this period that Dali created his Masterworks. The Dali owns eight of these monumental paintings, more than any other institution in the world.
We found the regularly scheduled docent talks extremely helpful in understanding – and appreciating – many aspects of Dali’s life and works, especially when it came to the many symbols embedded in his paintings.
The museum building itself is stunning in its design and its connection to the artist himself. The new building opened on January 11, 2011 and sits directly on Tampa Bay. The structure of the building is a fascinating blend of the simple (a rectangular shape with 18-inch thick hurricane-proof walls) with the fantastical (a huge free-form geodesic glass bubble known as “The Enigma” intricately incorporated in the building). Made up of 1,062 triangular pieces of glass, The Enigma is a 21st century homage to the dome that adorns Dali’s museum in Spain. Inside, the Museum houses another unique architectural feature – a helical staircase – recalling Dali’s obsession with spiral and the “world beyond,” as well as his fascination with the double helical shape of the DNA molecule.
Visitors enter on the ground floor through the Dali Museum Store, which offers a wide array of Dali-inspired merchandise. Also located on the ground floor is Café Gala, which offers light, Spanish-inspired tapas and fare with indoor and outdoor seating. The outdoor seating is part of the museum’s Avant-garden, which is inspired by the artist’s fascination with the duality of art and nature. Situated on the scenic waterfront, the Avant-garden is a tranquil, inviting spot for a respite.
The third floor of the museum contains two galleries – one for the permanent collection of Dali’s works, and another hosts special exhibitions. The exhibition that we thoroughly enjoyed was Dali & the Impressionists: Monet, Renoir, Degas, & More. The exhibition, which runs through April 28, 2024, explores Dali’s deep involvement with the Impressionist movement. Twenty-two paintings from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston were exhibited alongside 18 of Dali’s earliest paintings, including works by Monet, Renoir, Degas, Matisse, and Cezanne.
The summer of 2023 saw the opening of The Dali Museum’s newest experience – Dali Alive 360. This immersive digital display of the artist’s life and work is presented in The Dali Dome as an add-on to the regular Gallery Admission. The outer cover of the Dome, which is a permanent addition to the Dali Museum, displays the Melting Watch and an eye adorns the Dome’s top, both iconic Dali symbols. With 360 degrees of powerful sound and animation, the experience immerses the visitor in Dalí’s surreal landscapes, iconic melting clocks and mind-bending illusions depicting four key eras of the artist’s life. These include the artist’s childhood in Spain, his introduction to the surrealist circles in Paris, his refuge in America and finally his return to Spain. Dali Alive 360 is co-produced by the Museum and Grande Experiences – the creator of Van Gogh Alive.
A visit to The Dali Museum may be a transformative experience for one’s view of this celebrated artist. Or it may prove to further enforce a preconceived opinion. Whatever the result of your experience at The Dali, you will come to know – and possibly appreciate – the great risks that Dali took to reveal the richness of the creative spirit.