Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Salvador Dali Museum: St. Petersburg, Florida

The latest art buzz coming out of Florida isn't from Miami, but St. Petersburg. In January 2011, 96 works by surrealist Salvador Dali found a new home in this appropriately extraterrestrial-like building with a "melting geodesic" dome. The Dali Museum not only features the most comprehensive collection left behind by Salvador Dali, but the museum itself is considered to be one of the most beautiful museums in the world. 

Exterior view of 'melting' geodesic dome. Dali was a friend and admirer of Buckminster Fuller, who helped the pioneer geodesic geometries and is a hero of the architect.

Coquina grotto draped with bromeliads

The building has bright galleries, a concrete helix staircase, and a coquina grotto draped with bromeliads. Major Dalí works are set off by a few fun, lesser-known works like Lobster Telephone and Basket of Bread and screenings of surrealist films by Dalí and Buñuel. The collection is rich in works from the artist's entire career, with key works from every moment and in every medium of his artistic activity, including 96 oil paintings, many original drawings, bookworks, prints, sculpture, photos, manuscripts, and an extensive archive of documents. 

Salvador Dali

Designed by architect Yann Weymouth of HOK, the new building combines the rational with the fantastical: a simple rectangle with 18-inch thick hurricane-proof walls out of which erupts a large free-form geodesic glass bubble known as the "enigma." The "enigma," which is made up of 1062 triangular pieces of glass, stands 75 feet at its tallest point, a twenty-first century homage to the dome that adorns Dali's museum in Spain. Inside, the Dali houses another unique architectural feature - a helical staircase - recalling Dali's obsession with spirals and the double helical shape of the DNA molecule. 

The helical staircase at the Dali Museum

The tip of the staircase looking up to the large free-form geodesic glass bubble 
known as the "enigma" 

The Dali Museum's Café seating area

Café Gala, named after Dali's wife

The museum's Cafe Gala, named for Dalí's wife, is open for breakfast and lunch during museum hours. It's fast and casual. Order at the counter from a chalkboard menu, wait for your food and carry it on a tray to one of several small, round brushed-aluminum tables inside or outside, in warmer weather.

Turkey Breast and Basil Pesto Flatbread Panini

The menu, designed by chef Tyson Grant in collaboration with museum director Hank Hine, is a short but flavorful tribute to Dalí's Spanish roots, such as Serranita, a sandwich on focaccia bread, stuffed with pork, serrano ham, olive oil, roasted garlic, tomato, Manchego cheese and pimento aioli. Layered with flavour and filling enough to share, it's delicious with a bowl of Gazpacho or Caldo Gallego Soup. 

Bird's eye view to the café from the top floor

Another solid choice is Ensalada Jamon, a salad of mixed greens with serrano ham, Spanish almond slivers, roasted peppers, olives and Manchego cheese or a Cold Tortilla, a Spanish take on a frittata made with onions and potatoes or serrano ham. There's also a short tapas menu. It's a beautiful space, framed at one end by a winding staircase and at the other by a piece of the iconic glass enigma that wraps the building. It looks out onto a serene patio and the bay beyond.

The Museum gift shop is chocked full of fabulous books and crazy gifts 
like this 12" lobster tree ornament!

Regular daily docent tours are available every hour on the half hour, with private docent-led tours including privacy headsets, available with advanced notice for a fee. These private tours can encompass the collection as a whole, or specific areas of interest such as mathematics, science, psychology, religion, and other areas. Our docent for the afternoon was Wally Shearburn, an extremely knowledgable and engaging authority on Salvador Dali, his life, work and art. Having graduated with an honours in art history, Salvador dali was a not an artist I had studied, nor was I initially intrigued by — that was before Wally had my attention for a full hour, bringing the artist's life into full colour.

Dali docent Wall Shearburn, who gave a wonderfully informative and captivating 
one hour tour through the Dali Museum 

Wally explained that the Dali Museum was founded with the works collected by Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, who collected his art for many years and subsequently donated it to a museum that would promise not to break up the collection — ergo, The Dali Museum St. Petes. 

Dali's 'Still Life Moving Fast'

Dali's 'Daddy Longlegs of the Evening - Hope!'

Born in Figueres, Spain in 1904, Salvador Dali was known for his technical skill as a painter and the shocking quality of his imagination. Dali consistently depicted the landscape of his homeland, one that became synonymous with the landscape of the imagination and of dreams. He forged in his long career a remarkable body of work, and his life demonstrates the richness of living creatively in every aspect of one's existence. The Dali Museum, in a larger sense, is a place of beauty dedicated, as is Dali's art, to understanding and transformation, and a cultural, architectural and artistic gem not to be missed, when visiting South Florida.

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