Located in St. Petersburg, Florida, the Salvador Dalí Museum is undoubtedly one of the most unique art collections in the world. This is due, in no small part, to the artist himself—a man whose work has amazed, intrigued, confused, angered, and inspired millions—but the museum is also quite unique with regard to the range of exhibits it contains and the history of how it came to be.
My first visit to the Salvador Dalí Museum was in January of 2003, as part of Anml4ixoye's Tampa noder gathering. While I will attempt to refrain from slipping into hyperbole—if I ever write a node about my life being "changed forever" by a visit to a museum, it'll definitely have to involve a story about a near-death experience or having sex in a back room or something like that—I will say that this museum greatly increased both my respect and interest in Dalí and his works, as well as raising the bar for what I've come to expect from an art museum. (Not too shabby.)
This writeup will discuss the history of the Museum, the Dalí collection itself, and a brief overview of some of the pieces in said collection. (So if none of that interests you, feel free to exit now.)
Originally founded in Cleveland in 1971, almost all of the works housed in the Salvador Dalí Museum began as part of the private collection of Eleanor and A. Reynolds Morse, two Colorado natives who purchased their first Dalí painting in 1943 in celebration of their one-year wedding anniversary. The couple established a relationship with the artist and continued collecting his works over the next 45 years, resulting in what would become the most robust collection of original Dalí works in the world.
One major advantage of having a single family as its largest contributor is that the Museum is privy to a great deal of first-hand accounts of what Dalí was thinking when he produced much of the work on display. The Morses frequently had lengthy conversations with the artist regarding his paintings—as a result, the Salvador Dalí Museum's highly competent tour guides can better inform and educate visitors as to what they are viewing.*
*This is, of course, in contrast to many other artists' collections, where opinions abound regarding an individual piece's purpose, its inspiration, etc., and yet these opinions are often little more than mere speculation on the part of the historian.
For almost thirty years, the Morse collection was kept on private display in the couple's Cleveland home. In 1965, the Morses agreed to loan over 200 Dalí works to an art retrospective, after which they concluded that their collection had grown large enough to warrant a museum of its own.
Upon learning of their decision to build a museum in his honor, Dalí suggested New York as a location and encouraged the Morses to consider building the facility with "walls that breathe and pulse imperceptibly, moved by a pneumatic apparatus." While I'm sure they probably spent a great deal of time considering this proposal, the Morses eventually opted for a slightly more traditional approach.
In 1971, the artist himself presided over the service to establish of the first Salvador Dalí Museum, opened in a building adjacent to the Morses Beachwood, Ohio, office building. But the Museum facilities eventually proved to be inadequate for the collection and its overwhelming number of visitors. Soon a nation-wide search was conducted to find a suitable alternate location, with the Morses offering to donate their entire collection to the selected museum (with the caveat that all the materials be kept together to preserve the historical integrity of the collection).
That caveat proved troublesome for many interested museums. Suitors for the Morse collection abounded, but all insisted on having the option to sell or trade some of the pieces in the future.
The Morse's search woes soon drew the attention of the media. After reading about the Morses' desire to move the museum in The Wall Street Journal, Florida attorney James Martin organized select members of the community into the "Dalí Task Force," which he used to garner support from city and state government officials for the purpose of creating a permanent Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg.
The Task Force succeeded in raising US$3 million in initial funding for the museum. The Morses, pleased with the exposure Florida's tourist trade would bring to their collection, selected a location in St. Petersburg's Bayboro Harbor for the new museum. They felt the area around the harbor was an excellent location because it resembled Cadaques, Dali's childhood home.
And so, on March 10, 1982, on the site of a former marine warehouse, the new Salvador Dalí Museum was opened to the public. Since then, the St. Petersburg facility has hosted millions of visitors from all over the world (officials estimate more than 50% of museum patrons come from outside the United States).
Since that time, the museum has expanded and renovated to include a lecture hall and more space for visiting exhibits. To this day, It continues to host the world's most comprehensive public collection of Salvador Dalí works.
The Salvador Dalí Museum's permanent collection includes 95 original oil paintings (spanning from 1917 to 1970), over 100 watercolors and drawings, and a library of 1300 graphics, photographs, sculptures, and "objects d'art."
Of the oil paintings in the collection, there is an excellent selection of works from Dalí's four major periods: Early , Transitional, Surreal, and Classic. The museum separates Dali's work by these periods, and so its seems reasonable that I do the same:
Early Period (1917 - 1927)
Within the Morse Collection, examples of Dalí's first period are primarily pieces he did as a young artist in and out of art school. The collection includes View of Cadaques with the Shadow of Mount Pani, which the artist completed when he was only 13 years old. Other pieces, such as Self Portrait (Figueres), Still Life: Sandia, and others, show the artists' developing style. His growing skill is further demonstrated with the shockingly realistic Basket of Bread and Girl's Back, intricately crafted images of almost photographic quality. Other pieces in the museum collection exemplify Dalí's "trying his hand" at everything from Impressionism and Cubism to Realism and Dutch Baroque.
Transitional Period (1927 - 1928)
Since this period was fairly short, the museum collection has only a few examples of Dalí's transition to from traditional painting to Surrealism. Among the works in the collection is Apparatus and Hand and Big Thumb, Beach, Moon and Decaying Bird. In these pieces we see Dalí becoming bolder in his approach, exploring the Freudian underpinnings of the Surrealists in the former and experimenting with abstract forms (mixing gravel and sand into his canvas) in the latter.
Surreal Period (1929 - 1940)
Work produced during this period represents the majority of pieces on display at the museum. Dalí took to Surrealism like a dog takes to...um, things dogs like, I suppose. Among the works in the collection: the famous melting clocks of The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory and Dali's jab at his estranged father in The Average Bureaucrat. Other surrealist pieces in the collection include Old Age, Adolescence, Infancy (The Three Ages), Daddy Longlegs of the Evening-Hope!, and Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire.
Classic Period (1940 - 1970)
When Dalí's wife, Gala, suggested that his Surrealist works "only scratched the surface" of his genius, he agreed. Having recently re-found his faith in religion, the artist began working on his Masterworks: enormous pieces that would each take at least a year to produce, each including themes of religion merged with modern science. There are 12 such Masterworks in existence, seven of which are located in the Salvador Dalí Museum. A few you might have heard of: The Hallucinogenic Toreador, Galacidalacidesoxiribunucleicacid (Homage to Crick and Watson), The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, and Nature Morte Vivante (Still Life-Fast Moving). The magic of the paintings of this period is that you can literally stare at each work of art for hours and continue to find more and more hidden images and messages. Incredibly intricate and awe-inspiring, an artist would only hope to end his career on such a strong note.
The permanent collection of Dalí works in St. Petersburg is rivaled only by the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation collection, which is split amongst three individual Spanish museums: the Dalí Theater-Museum, the Gala Dali Castle Museum-House, and the Salvador Dalí Museum-House.
The Salvador Dalí Museum is located off Third Street in St. Petersburg, Florida. Its address is:
1000 Third Street South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
You can contact the museum
(well, not really the museum, per se
, but people at
the museum) by phone (727-823-3767 or toll free 1-800-442-3254) or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
For more information about the museum, its history, and its collection (including full-color images of part of the collection), visit its website at www.salvadordalimuseum.org.
3. "Dalí." (Pamphlet) Salvador Dalí Museum, Inc. St. Petersburg, Florida: 2002.
4. Bill Cahoon (tour guide/historian). Salvador Dalí Museum: 11 Jan 2003.