The New Salvador Dali Museum- St. Petersburg, Florida
The New Dali Museum- St. Petersburg, Florida
We had driven the 110 miles up from Bonita Springs in great expectation. The new Salvador Dali Museum had just opened on January 12th of this year. We had visited the previous harbor front location on three occasions and never tired of peering into the mind of a genius/madman with incredible painting skills.
The GPS led us to the old museum on S.E. Third Street in downtown St. Petersburg. The old street signs were still posted along the way. Fortunately an over large sign there directed us a few blocks over to Fifth St. S.E. and into the parking lot next to a small waterfront airfield in the harbor area.
From a distance, the three-story concrete block structure looks rather plebian for an art museum. It sits in a small campus with an open courtyard. Across the open area sits the Mahafey Theater attached to the Florida State University. Both front on a magnificent stretch of downtown St. Petersburg’s harbor front.
We paid our $21 each for a ticket and walked into an open and airy gift store. They have all manner of bric a brac, art posters, tee shirts and everything imaginable imprinted with a Dali logo. We then passed a rather curious 1930’s vintage automobile. A fully suited hardhat driver was perched in the right hand driver’s seat. In the rear seat, sat a full sized mermaid. It was the beginning of a two-hour odyssey of the mind that would leave us both awed and amazed at the depths of the imagination of a genius.
Within the central foyer of the three-story museum, an art deco coffee shop occupies center stage on floor one. The entire wall of all three floors of the museum here is composed of triangular shaped, segmented window panes that bulge outward in a turtlehead formation for lack of a better term. The view out onto the bay is magnificent.
At the very center of the foyer is an elliptical staircase that rises in a graceful helix to the third floor. We walked its narrow steps upwards. An entire busload of school age teens was walking downward with their predictable unawareness of things around them.
On the top floor, the hallway looked out onto the bay through the huge glass paned bubble that stretched right over the ceiling front of the building, to a point half way back of the structure. It was light and airy and beautiful.
There are two galleries off this hallway. The first holds 96 oil paintings that represent the largest collection of Salvador Dali paintings in the world. The crowds were thick but silent and appreciative of the works before them. Off to our right we could hear the impassioned lecture of a docent warming to the task of informing a large crowd of the mysteries of the weird symbolism of Salvador Dali.
The Spanish Master’s first works were oils that resembled somewhat early impressionist paintings. The genius was flexing his early talents. As we walked on through the gallery the paintings got more and more complicated. However odd they appear, the oils hold your attention as your eyes drift over the melting watches and timepieces. The diaphanous figures, whole and part, appear here and there around the periphery of his paintings. The odd distortions of body and solid objects are both eye catching and fascinating. This man had a talent that would have allowed him to paint in any mode or fashion that he chose.
The over large murals like “El Toreador,” “The Coronation of John XX111,” and “Christopher Columbus discovering America” drew the most attention. We all stared long, awed at the flowing images that marched across the canvasses. In “El Toreador” the fun is in discerning Dali’s face, green tie and matador’s jacket hidden in the larger painting. Similarly in the others, you can find faces hidden in clouds or as parts of landscape or other beings. Tiny figures always people the background in different poses. You had to wonder what sweeping and disjointed association the mind of the painter had been in when transmitting this spiritual state of organized madness to canvass. Many are a snap shot of what Dante must have meant in his poetic epic “Inferno.”
Others remind me of Hieronymus Bosch and his demon-laden nightmares on canvass. Whatever your tastes or opinions, these oils will hold your interest. One poor soul, who was listening to the audio presentation on a head set, kept asking his companions if they had “Seen Abraham Lincoln?” We noticed that he was looking at the wrong painting. Abe’s visage was clearly presented on another large painting just across the way. Such is the suggestive power of the man’s symbolism. People look for and see what they wish to see in the ethereal display of dementia.
Next, we ventured across the hall to the other gallery. Along the wall are a series of several score of etchings, drawings and colored representations of Dali’s works. Many appeared as almost as cartoon caricatures. They were on every subject imaginable. Like some of Dali’s oils, bureaucrats did not favor well in his renderings.
Two large film clips were running on opposing walls featuring a much older Dali being interviewed by a 1950’s era, button downed host. Dali expounded over and over on a work by Mondrian, saying Piet (Mondrain) is niet (Nyet= Russian for no) And Dali is yes. Apparently Mondrian was not a favorite of his.
Another wall featured posters of several Dali works that were not in the collection. I remembered a few as well that I had seen before but were not now present. I guess the museum takes on loans from other private collections and in turn loans out works to other prominent museums around the world.
Lastly, a small collection of works, painted by teenagers, improvised what Dali might have painted. Many were both imaginative and interesting. Perhaps it is the uninhibited child in Dali that gave him his inspiration?
By now, we had the “museum glaze” descend on us. We took the elevator down to the art deco coffee shop and settled in for some very good coffee and wonderful blueberry muffins. Art Patrons sat all around us talking of the museum and its exhibits. We looked out through the pane-segmented window and enjoyed the azure skies and deep blue of the Gulf of Mexico. It really is an exquisite setting.
After our welcome break, we set out once again to walk through this great collection. This time we took the elevator, leaving the helix stairs to the younger ones.
The oil paintings grabbed our attention once again. We seemed to find another face or some new oddity of symbolic value the longer we looked at each piece. The juxtaposition of real and surreal blended into a seamless reality that seemed normal. Everyone has diaphanous creatures wafting around their consciousness, don’t they?
The “despoliation of the host” caught our attention. Dali must have been ticked at the local church for that one. The bureaucrat with the seashells in his brain made us smile again. Curiously extended arms with odd object attached to them were beginning to seem normal. You can almost understand how the man slipped into madness and it all seemed normal after a bit. Were he not such an inspired and gifted painter, they would have locked the man up in a Spanish booby hatch a long time back.
We finished up looking again at “El Toreador” “ Christopher Columbus Discovering America” and “The Coronation of Pope John XXIII.” We saw new faces and forms the longer we looked. Had the man only painted these three visual epics. He would still have been adjudged a genius.
We were tiring with Museum glaze as we wandered for a last walk through the gallery of his etchings and the two film clips. It was a lot to take in. But we were glad we had come again to enjoy this odyssey of the mind through Dante/Dali/Bosch’s distorted consciousness.
Below, in the gift shop we browsed for a time. Mary bought a few bookmarks for friends. Then we walked out of the Gallery back into the real world. The sun was shining and it was 69 degrees out. A chilly northerly breeze was sweeping in off the Gulf. Small children were running in the plaza between the Dali Museum and the Mahaffey Theater. Tourists like us wandered around both buildings and in the nearby waterfront park, enjoying the beauty of a sunny Winter’s day in Florida/
We stood for a time admiring the beauty of the exterior of the Dali Museum. At a cost of $36 million, the collection had been set within a three story concrete box, with walls that are eighteen inches thick, to withstand a category five hurricane. The architectural beauty of the structure emanated from its front. The segmented window wall flowed from first to third floors like a crystal stream of Dali’s consciousness. Another small glass wall flanked the main stream. It really gives you the feel of a Dali painting. Glistening in the noonday sun. We sat for a time in the small outdoor plaza and enjoyed where we were. Childish squeals of laughter led us to a small pine tree maze at the corner of the facility. Dutifully, we walked into the maze, on the crushed shell path, inhaling the pine scent from the newly planted trees, At the center of the maze, the path merely ran in a circle. We had to walk back out the way we had come. I am sure there is a meaning here about journeys and circular paths, but we missed it. We were tiring from the dive and the day.
We retrieved the voiture and drove across St. Petersburg’s waterfront. A large central pier with a wonderful “Columbia Restaurant” juts out into the Bay. We had visited and enjoyed it before. Along Beach Street are a number of boutiques, hotels and Bistros. Aging tourist like us wandered hither and yon enjoying the day.
It was time to head out. We made out way, using our handy GPS, to Rte. #275 South and headed back towards Bonita Springs. We again drove across the magnificent seven-mile expanse of the sunshine bridge spanning Tampa Bay. The extraordinary bridge has two huge “sail wings,” composed of support cables, astride its center span. It rises well over 150 feet above the bay. It’s no place for an acrophobic.
About halfway home, we stopped in Charlotte Harbor to have a late lunch in a wonderful bay front bistro named Porto Fino. The Tuna steak and Panini were wonderful. The view here is restful and eye appealing.
It was getting late. We reentered the “cowboy freeway’ of Rte. # 75 and headed south. I call it the cowboy freeway because the traffic is lawless. High-speed cowboys traverse its length employing no rules of the road, seemingly unhindered. One can only hope they reach their destination and spend lots of time with other people like themselves.
It had been a wonderful visit to a special place in St. Petersburg. I think even Salvador Dali would have been impressed.
Joseph Xavier Martin
January 28, 2011