Friday, February 12, 2016
The Salvador Dali Museum is housed in a stunning $30 million building featuring a 75-foot entryway made of thick blue glass, which covers the spiral staircase that takes visitors to the main display area on the third floor.
In 2006, I wrote a column about the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla. The museum promoted itself as the top-ranked museum in the South. Five years later, the increased threat of hurricanes caused a move from the old building to a stunning new $30 million building protected by 18-inch concrete walls on the downtown waterfront. The 75-foot entryway made of thick blue glass covers a spiral staircase that takes visitors to the main display area on the third floor.
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The docent who led our tour of 20 visitors was an expert at helping us understand what we were seeing.
Dali (1904-1989) was a Spanish surrealist painter noted at times for his grandiose manner. He has been credited with such statements as, “Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.”
Our guide focused much of the tour on four giant paintings. These paintings have realistic-looking people and objects, but Dali buried pictures within pictures that only became clear for us when they were pointed out. A picture of a female nude — modeled by Dali’s wife — standing in front of a wall, for example, became the face of Lincoln only after our guide pulled out a mirror and held it some distance away. Could that be the same picture? Finally, by standing about 20 yards from the painting and squinting our eyes were we able to see the president’s visage.
“The Hallucinogenic Toreador” is one of Dali’s greatest double-image paintings. We first saw a multitude of Venus statues inside a large bullring. As the docent talked, other images began to appear. The shadows on the Venus’ stomach form a chin and lips, with her left breast becoming Toreador’s nose and her face his eye. The dead bull’s head appears at the feet of the Venus statues.
The most beautiful of the four paintings is “The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.” In the largest painting, at 161 by 122 inches, the realistic figures of Columbus and his crew towing a boat ashore are crowded with many other images. Two figures of Christ on the cross seen from above as well as a variety of other religious figures appear when you know where to look for them.
“Homage to Crick and Watson (discoverers of DNA)” is a metaphor that we had some trouble grasping. God is seen sitting in sky connected to a large cloud like a Holy Ghost, who is reaching down and touching an injured Jesus.
During our previous visit, we spent more time with the museum’s collection of 96 oil paintings, more than 100 watercolors and drawings, various graphics, photographs and sculptures. Both times we found this a stimulating and fun experience.
We had lunch at the Dali dining room that serves its food in the Spanish style. It is on the first floor next to a large gift shop and book store.
During our most recent visit, there also was an M.C. Escher show on display. He delights viewers with his visual illusions and puzzles such as two hands drawing each other, impossible staircases that take the viewer up and always end up back at the beginning, or reptiles becoming birds as they merge into each other.
A. Reynolds, who purchased the paintings in this museum, became a close friend of Dali’s. When Reynolds wanted to give them to a museum, he could find no museum that would meet his requirements: that all were to be displayed and none was to be sold. When officials in St. Petersburg learned of this, they offered a building on the waterfront and agreed to his conditions. In its new home, the collection continues to be one of the most important in the South — if not the absolute top museum.