Inside Dali

By ericg May 31, 2011

The new $36 million Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg (which opened in January, not far from the museum’s former site and doubling its size) is winning acclaim as one of the most exciting attractions in Florida. And its location, barely an hour away from our own Ringling Museum, means that we now have two world-class art museums in the immediate area, jewels in the crown of a Gulf coast filled with beauty, beaches, culture and recreation.

Dali’s reputation has grown tremendously since his death in 1989. His embrace of commercialism and kitsch predated Warhol, and his later work eerily suggests computer-generated images. He worked not just in painting but in film, conceptual art, packaging and Freudian psychology. He based much of his work on mathematical formulas. He was modern in a way that artists weren’t supposed to be—flamboyant, publicity-mad. What critics complained about—his so-called flaws—now seem prescient of what art would become.

The new Dali Museum does him justice. He was not just a genius but an exciting one, and a visit to the largest collection of his works outside of his native Spain is a treasure trove of ideas, dreams, riddles—and beauty.

The museum’s design, by architectural firm HOK, features a large glass entryway, skylight and geodesic dome reminiscent of the Dali museum in Figueres, Spain. Dali’s interests in math, insects and filmmaking are evidenced in the museum courtyard’s spiraling tiles, gift shop praying mantises and collaborations with directors like Luis Bunuel.

In the Beginning

This Self-Portrait (Figueres) from 1921 is one of the earliest Dali works in the museum’s collection. The artist’s fascination with costume, props and drama is already apparent; from the beginning he was hard at work on creating a distinctive, eccentric image for his public. Here, he seemed to be placing himself as a sort of rebel within bourgeois society.


Finding Himself

By the time he painted Memory of the Child-Woman in 1931, Dali was beginning to rely on his own often tortured psychology for imagery, delving into what became familiar Freudian symbolism. The Oedipal drama, the William Tell myth, and Dali’s own longtime muse, his wife, Gala, all figure into this piece—one that art historians could happily spend years analyzing.


Later Years

One of Dali’s latest pieces in the collection (and also one vying for the longest title ) is Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln—Homage to Rothko (Second Version), painted in 1976. As you can tell from the title, what you see in this piece depends on where you stand; it utilizes a double image, one of Dali’s favorite tools.

A Surreal Gift Shop

Eye See>> This versatile timepiece, the Eye of Time (we all know Dali’s obsession with watches and time), can be worn as a brooch or a pendant; it’s sterling silver set with cubic zirconium and sells for $395.

Enigma Tee>> The museum building’s signature of flowing glass inspired the design of this T-shirt, which sells for $26.

Helical Earrings >> We’re told actress Susan Sarandon had her eyes on these earrings during the museum’s grand opening; the curves of the helix were another of Dali’s fascinations. Sterling silver, $425.

Deconstructing Dali

Nothing is quite what it seems in this 1970 work, The Hallucinogenic Toreador.Gala, Dali’s wife and muse. She appeared in many of his paintings.

A hidden image of a bull.

A small boy, possibly a portrait of the artist as a child.

The flies suggest transitory, elusive time.

The toreador’s tie and shirt.

Primary focus is on the toreador, whose face is hidden in the repeated representations of the Venus de Milo.


All images copyright: In the USA © Salvador Dali Museum, Inc. St. Petersburg, Florida, 2011 Worldwide rights © Salvador Dalí. Fundación Gala-Salvador Dali (Artists Rights Society) 2011

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