Salvador Dali would enjoy the hoopla. To great fanfare, the new Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., opens to the public 1/11/11 at 11:11 a.m. It is a beauty, both real and surreal.
January is chock full of public events to herald the arrival of this masterpiece of museums. Whenever you visit, now or later, take a docent tour. Not only are they entertaining, but, trust, me, you’ll want the explanations.
We were treated to a sneak preview of the $36 million building late December. With two weeks to go before the opening, things were still very much a work in progress, and the artwork hadn’t been moved from the current site eight blocks south. Though I loved the old museum, which opened in 1982, it was time for a step up for Dali’s art and for downtown St. Petersburg, these days a lively tourist destination.
Many folks don’t realize that the Dali Museum here has more of the surrealist’s paintings than any place outside of his museum in Spain. The core collection was donated by the late A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse. The new 66,400-square-foot building more than doubles the old, and the exhibition space jumps from 7,000 to 15,000 square feet, meaning more paintings, sculptures, and melting clocks can be displayed.
The building itself, designed by architect Yann Weymouth, is the perfect vessel for Dali’s work. Visitors are first hit with a view of the “Glass Enigma,” geodesic glass bubbles that front the building. From the inside, the structure, made with 900 triangular glass panels held in a steel grid — none identical — looks over the city’s waterfront.
Just at the entrance is the cleverly titled “Avant Garden,” featuring a grotto and bridge, hedge labyrinth, and a patio with stone pavers forming the golden rectangle. Dali loved mathematics.
Inside, you’ll walk by (or browse in) an enhanced gift shop that will hold even more items than before, some custom-designed with Dali in mind, as they have been in the past. To the right is the first Dali café, with lacy metallic chairs. In the center is another mathematical masterpiece – “the Helical Staircase” – a spiral staircase resembling a strand of DNA that ascends to third-floor galleries and ends midair with a flourish of steel.
Also sure to make a splash is “Rainy Rolls 2010,” a custom-made version of Dali’s “Rainy Taxi.” His original installation of a taxi that rains on the inside was the hit of the 1938 International Surrealist Exhibition in Paris. It’s been re-created several times over, and this one was designed by Alain Cerf, founder of the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum. The car is a fully functional 1933 Rolls Royce Sedanca whose mannequin driver, dressed in vintage dive gear, carries a passenger, in this case a mermaid, who is being rained on. (The water is actually coming down between plexiglass panels.) It’s an engineering and artistic marvel, and makes you realize there really is no shelter from the storm. That, my friends, is surreality.