Saturday, August 04, 2012

We Visit The Dali

There's a Salvadore Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida that I've been wanting to visit for decades. It's over three hours away by car, so I've never gotten around to it, but The Boy and I finally hit it today and we agreed it was fantastic, worth the many hours on the road. Here's the site:

The museum just moved into a new building about a year and a half ago. The bottom floor is all gift shop, second floor is for staff and third for the galleries. We couldn't take photos inside the galleries, as you may imagine, but I'm sure you can find images of almost everything online. The Boy wanted to sneak some photos anyway, but those people watch you like hawks. We could take photos outside of the gallery, so here are a few of those. Click on the images to see larger versions. I shouldn't have to tell you that really. You should know how to use the Internet by now.

Here's me on a melty bench.

Much more after the jump! 

The Boy rubbing his right nipple
Giant Dali moustache made of mere styrofoam, believe it or not 

A partial view of the bulbous backside of the building

Inside the backside

A spiral staircase that keeps spiraling even after it runs out of staircase

I'm not an art expert by any means, but I do dig it. Someone who's not into art may see Dali as a bit of a novelty act. "Oh, he's the melty watch guy!" He's that and much more. I had a great deal of respect for the guy's work before I hit the museum today and now, hours later, I am in complete awe of him. I knew he was an excellent artist technically speaking, meaning he had the chops down pat. He had to nail that before he could get crazy. What I didn't quite realize was the breadth of his styles. He could do surreal, of course (what he's most famous for), but he could do realism as well, impressionism, classicism, cubism and stuff I don't know the names for. He worked not only in oils, but ink, watercolor, collage, jewelry and more. The guy was a fucking master at whatever he chose to do.

Beyond that, what most impressed me today was his vision. He could incorporate multiple styles, double images, repeating motifs and wild symbolism all in the same piece. The man was brilliant and truly went to new places.

About twenty years ago I remember reading about a house that Bill Gates was building for his new life as a family man and there was going to be a large frame-shaped monitor on the wall that could display just about any painting or image one could want to see. Sounds run of the mill today, yes, but at the time I thought that was a wonderful new idea and told a friend who was twice my age about it. He said it wouldn't be able to compare to a real painting and at the time, I couldn't understand why. Years later I was in a little gallery in Palm Beach and I got it immediately. I took great pains to impress the difference upon The Boy. If you're not around paintings, you have this idea that they're two-dimensional objects. They're not. They're three dimensional. The paint itself has thickness and texture. This is probably most obvious in impressionist paintings where the paint is layered on like cake frosting, but it can be seen in other styles as well. You can see the edges where one color overlaps another. You can see the lines of the brush strokes. You can also see things that the artist never intended you to see like the cracks running across an aging surface or the crud on a painting that could use some restoration. Go see art up close. You'll have more respect for the reality of it and for the humanity of the artist.

I was caught by surprise a few times by the size of some pieces. Bear in mind that the images I'm showing you here can't hold a candle to the actual pieces for reasons including but not limited to those stated in the last paragraph. I'd always assumed that The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft Which Can Be Used As a Table (1934) was a much larger piece than it actually is. It's only about  7 x 9.5 inches.

The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft Which Can Be Used As a Table (1934)
(image via 

Mostly I was amazed at how large some of the works at the museum were. Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea Which at Twenty Meters Becomes a Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (1976) is over 6 x 8 feet. And yes, it's hung so that if you didn't know the title, you might look at it up close, look again from the other end of the gallery and swear that someone changed the painting on you.

Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea Which at Twenty Meters Becomes a Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (1976)
The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1968-1970) at around 10 x 13 feet and The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (1958-1959) at over 9 x 14 feet are absolutely astonishing to behold.

The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1968-1970)
(image via

The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (1958-1959)(

Lastly there were pieces that I wasn't expecting, that just slapped me across the face as I entered their space. This is only one example, but probably my favorite new discovery of the day:

Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in Their Arms the Skins of an Orchestra (1936)

There's more going on in some of these paintings and drawings than my brain could capture. The Boy and I revealed details to each other as we spotted them even as we knew we weren't seeing every single thing that Dali meant for us to see. Some of his works are just fucking BUSY. You can spend a long time with them. 

What I took away from all of this as a creator, besides the aforementioned awe, was humility in the face of this sixty year span of work, but also excitement and inspiration. It made me want to create more than I'm creating now and stretch more than I'm stretching now.  

What I've shown you here is just a sliver of what there is to see. We spent three hours there, but honestly, after about two, being hungry and running on less than three hours of sleep, I couldn't fit much more into my brain. I will go back sometime to see it all again. If you go, set aside three or four hours to take it all in, in as much detail as you can handle.

If you're in the area, go see Dali, love him up, maybe give me a shout and if I have the time and I'm feeling stupid enough to make the drive again, I might go back and hang with you.


Snard said...

Many years ago, during a business trip to New York, we took a field trip to the Museum of Modern Art. While browsing the paintings, suddenly I found myself face to face with the most famous of Dali's paintings, The Persistance of Memory. It was hanging on the wall, not two feet in front of me, without anything between us but a velvet cord. I could have literally reached out and touched it (In fact, when I pointed at it to my traveling companion, a nearby museum guard politely told me to put my hand down, so I wouldn't accidentally touch it). I agree with you that it's amazing to see paintings up close and personal. You can imagine what the artist saw while they were putting the paint to the canvas.

I was wondering, did the museum have a copy of his sculpture "Lobster Telephone"? (as a side note, if you're familiar with the works of musician Todd Rundgren, he did a Dali tribute song on one of his albums that mentions this piece, and maybe a few others that I haven't figured out yet.)

Thanks for the post! If I am ever in St. Petersburg again, I will make sure I look this up.

Elke said...

The painting Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach is in the Wadsworth Athaneum in nearby Hartford. The museum is free on Saturdays if one gets there early enough, so my family were early birds throughout the 70's. I knew where all my favorites were and visited each of them each trip, including the face and the dog, and the weird stuff going on. As a teenager, I haunted the clearance area of the gift shop on Saturday mornings and bought a poster when it went into the sale bin. Never put that up. It's probably still in a closet at my parents' house somewhere. It's just not something you want in your bedroom, too complicated, too deep, too creepy. The dreams--I shudder to think.

Thanks for the virtual trip. Nice pictures. You and The Young Man on the melty bench are keepers for sure.

Paul Weimer said...

This is a neat looking museum, Matt! Thanks for sharing your experience!

Matthew Sanborn Smith said...

Mike, there were three items that the website says are at the museum that we never saw and we combed that place. One of them is one of the lobster phones (of which, apparently, there are ten). While I was there I didn't know it was supposed to be there, so I never thought to ask. My gas is that maybe these items are on loan, but I don't know.

Elke and Paul: Thanks for reading!

Matthew Sanborn Smith said...

Elke, some of Dali's stuff is pretty creepy. When I was a kid, I bought an Edward Gorey poster of The Gashlycrumb Tinies which I had to take down from my wall shortly after because it creeped me out. I gave it to a friend of mine who said that she couldn't bring herself to put it up on her wall either.

Elke said...

Oh, I could never sleep in a room with Gorey on the walls!

fredösphere said...

We were in Sarasota over New Years and loved our visit to the Dali. The Discovery of America is overwhelming, just as you say.