Salvador Dali's Museum is So Surreal
January 1, 1970
by Emma Abel
This past weekend, I was trying to think of things I haven’t experienced yet in my current city: Tampa, Florida. Florida seems to be a popular destination for people visiting the USA, but most visitors come for beaches or theme parks. I was looking to do something else.
I was driving down the interstate when I saw a billboard advertising The Dali Museum and its guest exhibit with Marcel Duchamp’s work. Growing up in Florida, I had always heard of people who absolutely loved visiting this museum and its collection of 2,100 works than span the course of Salvador Dali’s career as an artist. I quickly learned that the museum began when a couple known as Reynolds and Eleanor Morse donated their life’s collection of original Dali artwork to be seen by the public. The city of St Petersburg, Florida, was desperate to be the new home of this one-of-a-kind artwork and petitioned itself to be chosen by the Morses. The museum opened its doors in 1982, but it was remodeled in 2011 so that the building itself could be a fitting host to thousands of surrealist artwork.
When I first drove up to the building, I was immediately impressed. From one side, it looks like a plain, concrete building; However, the other side has a formless geometric window that seems to be bursting out of the wall. The window is composed of countless triangular pieces of glass – its tallest point is 75 feet in the sky. The dome-shape of the glass is said to resemble the Dali Museum in Spain. Through the window, a spiral staircase can be seen the spans the entire height of the building. Outside of the building, below the glass window, is the “Avant-Garden.” It was raining (as it often does on the coast of Florida) when I visited, so I was not able to explore what the garden was all about. However, I heard that there is a labyrinth!
Inside the Museum
There is a $10/vehicle fee to be able to park at the museum. Generally, tickets are free for children 5 and younger, $10 for children 6-12, $17 for teens or college-students, and $24 for anyone else. However, the museum runs lots of specials on ticket prices for military members and teachers. Tickets are also discounted after 5:00pm on Thursdays.
The museum offers guided tours at no extra cost, but they also offer audio-tours for anyone who wishes to guide him or herself. I opted for the audio tour, since I didn’t arrive at a scheduled start-time for a tour guide. Essentially, museum employees provide guests with an iPhone attached to a headset. The iPhone has an app on it with images of various pieces of art in the museum, as well as a link to hear about the history and story behind the pictured painting or sculpture. The app also has a challenge feature with trivia questions for guests to attempt to complete before leaving the museum.
Food and Gifts
The first floor of the museum has a cafe and gift shop for guests to enjoy before heading to the exhibits. The cafe seemed to honor Dali’s Spanish heritage by serving traditional Spanish soups, tapas, pastries, salads, and sandwiches. The cafe also offered coffee, beer, wine, and Spanish rose champagne. (Yum!) The food could even be taken to the garden for guests to enjoy – something I would love to do when it’s not raining!
The shop was filled with Dali-inspired shirts, mugs, jewelry, and gifts. I was particularly a fan of the “melting clock,” made to resemble one of Dali’s most iconic paintings, “The Persistence of Memory.”
The second floor of the museum is essentially a library with offices for museum staff – to be honest, I was so excited to see the art that I just marched right up that spiral staircase wearing my audio-guide headset to get to the third and final floor: the exhibits.
There are two separate rooms on the top floor. The James Family room includes the entire permanent collection of Dali’s work. This is where all of the Morses’ collection is stored, as well as artwork that has been obtained by the museum since it opened. On the other side, the special exhibit awaits in the Hough Family room.
I decided to enjoy the permanent collection first. After all, the reason I went to the museum was to see original Dali artwork! I turned on my audio guide, and I was pleased to see how user-friendly it was. The paintings are listed in the same order that they are presented in the exhibit. Even easier – the paintings that had a story on the audio tour were labeled on the wall with a black and white picture of a headset with a number that corresponded to the app on the iPhone. That way, I could easily choose to do a complete guided walkthrough, or I could pick and choose which paintings or sculptures I wanted to learn more about.
The artwork seemed to be strategically placed in chronological order. It was absolutely fascinating to see how Dali’s first painting (He was 6 years old!) compared to his work as he started art school, dropped out of art school, entered surrealism, and his final work. One of the most interesting stories to me was how Dali’s family life influenced the subject matter of his paintings. There’s a particular painting – titled, “Portrait of My Sister” – that really portrays his mixed feelings about her and her disapproval of his lifestyle choices. Through listening to my audio guide, I learned that Dali painted the original image of his sister as a completed image. However, after an intense disagreement with her, he decided to paint over his portrait, adding the reflection of her with a disfigured face and arms.
I believe that a visit to the museum is worth the trip simply to see Dali’s large optical illusions. I was impressed with the apparent design-planning he must have put into his paintings in order to pull of a painting that looks like a nude portrait of his wife (Gala) from up close, but after stepping back 20 meters, it turns into a portrait of Abraham Lincoln! I think I spent the most time staring at this painting, which is most accurately titled, “Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln.”
The special exhibit changes every few months or so, keeping locals interested in returning to the museum numerous times in a year. However, standing on the top floor and looking out through the globe window onto the Avant-Garden is a view so breath-taking that it competes with some of Dali’s own work. Getting to take a glimpse into this Master Artist’s world is always worth the trip. I couldn’t believe it had taken me 10 months of living in the area to get the chance to visit the Dali.