Salvador Dalí is an artist whose work my husband and I enjoy. Perhaps it is his quirkiness and symbolism or his immense talent and sheer genius. He was able to paint in any style; some of his classical works are as affecting as his surrealist pieces. His double image paintings that suggest optical illusions are brilliant. He started as an impressionist, dabbled with cubism, progressed from classicism to surrealism, embraced science and math into his art. In some works, you can see the influence of Picasso and Miró, with whom he was friends. He is reportedly the only artist to have two museums dedicated solely to his work while still alive. The Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dalí is located in the foothills of the Pyreness almost 5,000 miles away in Figueres, Catalonia, Spain; the Salvador Dalí Museum is less than 200 miles away in St. Petersburg, Florida. Ironically, we trekked to Figueres first before making the time to travel the three hours to St. Petersburg.
Dalí was born Salvador Domènec Felip Jacint Dalí i Domènech in 1904, in Figueres. His childhood was notable in that he was actually the second child in the family named Salvador. The first was his brother who died nine months before his birth. He was told that he was the reincarnation of his brother. When he misbehaved, reportedly, his parents told him that he was the bad Salvador; the good one had died. Perhaps you can begin to see the basis for some of the bizarre thinking patterns influencing his later works.
As a student at the School of Fine Arts in Madrid he was already described as “eccentric” and established friendships with the filmmaker Luis Buñuel and poet Federico García Lorca. After being expelled from school amid accusations of starting an unrest, he began growing his iconic mustache. In 1929, Dalí fell in love with Gala, a woman ten years older than he was and she remained his muse until her death in 1982. Dalí’s first exhibition in the United States was in 1934. He was notorious throughout his career for his flamboyance, sometimes bizarre dress, and apolitical positions which led to his being expelled from the surrealist movement. This expulsion affected him minimally for he felt that he was the true embodiment of surrealism. He died in Figueres in 1989.
Both museums have in common unique architecture worth seeingjust for the structures and a comprehensive survey of Dalí’s works from throughout his lifetime. The Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dalí, or more simply Dalí Theatre-Museum, was designed by Dalí and is the largest surrealist object in the world. Built on the site of the former Municipal Theater where Dalí had one of his first exhibitions, the original theater was destroyed in the Spanish Civil War. A work of art itself, the Theatre-Museum’s exterior and interior have many idiosyncratic features which have earned it a place on many of those lists you see in newspapers and magazines of “places to see before you die” or “the world’s strangest buildings”. Its exterior resembles a red towered fortress topped with a glass geodesic dome and enormous white eggs.
Opened in 1974, it houses the largest and most comprehensive collection of Dalí’s works. There are surprises everywhere. On closer inspection, a blank wall may have peep holes through which you can see an unexpected treat. Some of the mechanical displays such as the flooding of a mannequin occupied Cadillac require a Euro coin to operate.
One of the more popular and intriguing installations is the Mae West room. You enter a room that appears to contain, among other objects strewn about, a bright red couch, fireplace, curtain. Once you climb a ladder and look through a special lens, the objects come together to make a montage of Mae West’s face. If Figueres isn’t in your travel plans in the near future, Google “Mae West room”; there are many videos of it on You Tube.
The lavish collection of Dalí designed gold jewelry includes a beating ruby heart encased in gold. Nearby is the simple crypt containing Dalí’s grave.
Figueres is two hours from Barcelona on the direct train route to Portbou. From the station in Figueres, the Theatre-Museum is a 15 minute walk or short taxi ride. The town of Figueres is proud of its native son and there are tributes to Dalí located throughout it. Photos are allowed in the museum. Adjacent to the museum is a plaza with restaurants offering reasonably priced lunch menus.
How, you might ask, did St. Petersburg, Florida, become repository of the second largest Dalí collection in the world? Ohio residents Reynolds and Eleanor Morse were early Dalí collectors who became close friends with the artist. When they sought a beneficiary for the donation of their entirecollection, they were turned down by museums in Ohio and New York. Reading about the situation in The Wall Street Journal , an enterprising St. Petersburg attorney approached the Morses. With the support of the city and state governments, the Morses donated their collection to the citizens of Florida and a boat storage warehouse along the waterfront in St. Petersburg, renovated as a museum, opened in 1982.
In January, 2011, the present structure opened to the public. Designed by Yann Weymouth, who assisted with the I.M. Pei inverted pyramid at the Louvre in Paris, the building itself is a work of art. Built to sustain a Category 5 hurricane, it features a geodesic glass “enigma” and three story free standing helix (spiral) staircase. It also is included on some lists of “top buildings to see before you die.” The wonderful Florida, sunshine streaming through the 1,000 unique glass panels as well as the light cannons in the galleries provide distinctive viewing opportunities. The Dalí is located on Tampa Bay, adjacent to the Mahaffey Theater within what has become a thriving art district with galleries, outdoor cafes, and other museums.
While the St. Petersburg collection is not as extensive as the one in Figueres, it does consist of 96 oils, more than 100 watercolors and drawings, and more than 1,300 sculptures, graphics, photographs, films, and other objects. Many of the works are major pieces. Admission includes both audio guides and regularly scheduled docent tours. A bonus to a docent tour is hearing about some of the works in the actual words of Dalí; Reynolds Morse made a scrupulous written record of Dalí’s comments and donated his notebooks to the museum.
There is a gift shop and cafe that serves Spanish food such as gazpacho, the wonderful omelete “tortilla española” and serano ham. Allow some time to stroll through the small outdoor garden which features subtropical Florida plantings, a melting watch bench, a labyrinth, and a tranquil blend of earth and water.
Vickie is a former member of the Marco Island City Council and Artistic Director of the Marco Island Film Festival, and has been a volunteer for many island organizations. She is presently on the board of the Naples Mac Users Group. Prior to relocating to Marco, Vickie served as a school psychologist, Director of Special Services, and college instructor and also was a consultant to the New Jersey Department of Education.