Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida

The Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida

     The Dali Museum was opened in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1982.  The museum houses the collection donated by A. Reynolds and Eleanor R. Morse.  The Morses were from Cleveland and began collecting Dali in the 1940s.   They became good friends with the artist over the years and their home was filled with 96 of his works.  How this collection came to be donated to the people of Florida is an interesting story in and of its self. The original museum was an old warehouse and was replaced by the current magnificent structure on the waterfront in St. Petersburg in January, 2011.  The building, featuring a central tall, thin spiral staircase, was designed by architect Yann Weymouth and incorporates many of the artist’s themes.  The entrance fee to the museum includes a self-guided tour with an MP3 player and headphones and there are docent-led guided tours once an hour.  Both of these resources add greatly to the experience of the art.

     The paintings in the collection represent all periods of Dali’s long and varied career, including some from his early teen years.   You walk through the galleries in sequence.  First, there is an entrance gallery displaying the Morse’s first in their collection:  “Daddy Longlegs of the Evening –Hope!” which was painted in 1940.  Leaving the Entrance Gallery, you move through the Early Works including an eerie self-portrait from 1921 and many depictions of Cadaques, Spain which was a favorite boyhood spot.  His odd relations with his family become themes in many of his works.  He had an older brother (also named Salvador) who died in infancy and the artist’s own identity was interwoven with that of his deceased brother.  The painting “Portrait of My Dead Brother” was painted in 1964 and is a blend of pink and red dots which form a male image – an amalgamation of his own and his brother’s visage.  This painting is included in the gallery of what Dali called “anti-art” and showed his interest in and knowledge of pixels and how the human eye interprets what it sees.  One of the most amazing paintings in this section is “Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea” which on close viewing is a detailed portrait of his nude wife gazing out of a window.  When the viewer stands back greater than twenty meters, the painting becomes a portrait of Abraham Lincoln!

(Prints in the Gift Shop - photos were not allowed in the Gallery)

     Dali was also very interested in science and physics and incorporated dimensions of science and mathematics into his paintings.  One painting of many objects in motion reflected his understanding of time and relativity.

     The surrealist gallery contains the paintings for which Dali is most remembered and recognized.  Interestingly, although he lived from 1904 through 1989, he painted in this style only during the 1930s.  Many of the paintings in this section could hold your attention for hours: “Enchanted Beach with Three Fluid Graces” and “Archeological Reminiscence of Millet’s ‘Angelus’” to name two.  In the latter, there is a miniature depiction of young Salvador and his father holding hands, representing when the two got along.  Dali’s father apparently never approved of his career or work and this paternal disapproval is another theme which recurs in Dali’s work.

     Finally, you enter the Mature Works section which contains several of his Grand Masterpieces – works of gigantic scale and detail which also contain rich symbolism and optical illusions.  “The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus” includes yet another portrait of his wife Gala and also a self-portrait.  This painting also represents Dali’s own discovery of America, where he lived during the second world  war.
“The Ecumenical Council” is another huge and detailed work created to celebrate the coronation of Pope John XXIII.  Here he depicts the Holy Trinity and sees the event as occurring somewhere between heaven and earth.  It is in this painting that Dali used an octopus to spread paint in one area and then painted in details to finish his vision.

     This art collection is incredible and makes one appreciate the artist for the genius he was rather than just an eccentric as he has been portrayed.  He was indeed a bit odd, but his knowledge and understanding of science, psychology (he was also a student of Freud, many of whose ideas show up in his paintings as well), mathematics and physics are all incorporated into his works.

     The building itself is magnificent and worthy of the collection it holds.  The central spiral staircase is a marvel and the giant domes on one end enable the visitor to view the St. Petersburg waterfront in a totally different perspective.  The outdoor gardens, including a labyrinth further illustrate Dali’s understanding of mathematics and physics in nature.

     This is an outstanding exhibit in a fantastic building.  I would recommend visiting to anyone who may be in the Tampa-St.Petersburg area.

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