Few art museums in Florida – or most anywhere outside of New York City – rival the allure of the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg.
On the southern end of downtown, on the waterfront, it boasts the largest collection of Dali’s art outside of a museum he founded himself in his hometown of Figueres, Spain.
Housed in what’s been described as “one of the top buildings to see in your lifetime,” the collection includes 2,400 works spanning Dali’s long career. Here, you can see his oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, books, book illustrations and manuscripts, prints, sculptures, photos, textiles and documents.
Dali, who died at 84 in 1989, was a prolific artist and a pioneer in Surrealism, known for his flamboyant personality as much as for his mind-bending art. Some called him a mad genius.
Many know him for his soft, melting clocks and watches, his self-portraits and his obsession with his wife, Gala. Others know him for his gigantic paintings, some with hidden images or imbedded mysteries.
Showcased in the Dali Museum, one titled, “Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea,” depicts his nude wife staring into the sea within a cross surrounded by brown squares. Step back and squint, or put on sunglasses, and you’ll see a portrait of Abraham Lincoln.
It’s one of the most popular – among many – of his works in the museum.
It takes several hours to walk through the museum to see all the art and to read descriptions of each piece. To learn more, it’s a good idea to download the Dali Museum app and take a self-guided tour.
In addition to the permanent collection, special exhibits are hosted regularly. Currently on display through Jan. 2, 2022, is “The Woman Who Broke Boundaries: Photographer Lee Miller,” featuring her work in photojournalism and portraiture.
Visitors can see some of her self-portraits, and her photos of Dali and Gala, as well as her portraits of other artists and writers associated with Surrealism, including Man Ray and Pablo Picasso.
Another exhibit, “At Home With Dali,” features photos by five photographers of Dali and Gala at home in Spain in the 1950s and ‘60s.
From Jan. 29 to May 22, 2022, the museum presents “Picasso and the Allure of the South,” which will depict southern Europe’s influence on Picasso’s work. Many works he created in northern Spain and on France’s Mediterranean coast will be shown for the first time in the U.S.
The museum building is a work of art itself, with its geodesic glass bubble enveloping parts of the exterior, and a spiral staircase winding gracefully upward inside.
Looking around you sometimes feel like you are within a Dali painting, or a seashell, especially while walking up the circular staircase and looking up at the blue sky and billowing white clouds or out to Tampa Bay.
The museum website says the building “combines the rational with the fantastical,” and that’s certainly true.
The fantastical continues outside, too, in the “Avant-Garden,” a green space that includes a ficus called the “Wish Tree,” dangling with strings of colorful admission bracelets marked with wishes of those who have left them, for health, love, world peace and even fame.
Dali, always the self-promoter and fantastically popular, would have liked that. In his autobiography, “The Secret Life of Salvador Dali,” he said, at 7, he wanted to be Napoleon. “And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.”
In the garden, also, is a bench that appears to be melting, with a melting clock on it, and a huge Dali mustache sculpture that visitors like to stand in front of for photographs.
Due to COVID-19, the museum is not offering its usual docent-led tours, but it still offers private tours for groups fewer than 10, for a fee above admission.
The Dali museum store and Cafe Gala are both open. The store is filled with everything Dali – from jewelry to books, posters, melting clocks and clothing. The cafe features Spanish tapas.
Some have said Dali’s Surrealism is not their taste, so they haven’t visited the world-renowned museum. But Dali’s art is diverse and there’s probably something here for everyone. And who could resist the fantastical works of a mad genius?
Salvador Dali Museum
Where: One Dali Blvd., St. Petersburg
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., except for Thursdays, when it closes at 8 p.m.
Tickets: Advance-purchase, timed tickets are required. Order at TheDali.org.
Cost: Ages 18 to 64, $25; 65 and older, as well as educators, law enforcement and military, $23; students 13 and older, $18; ages 6 to 12, $10; 5 and younger, free.
For self-guided tours and Dali facts, download the Dali Museum app and take headphones or buy ear-buds at the museum.
Covid update: Masks are required indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
Contact: TheDali.org; 727-823-3767
By Karen Haymon Long
Published October 13, 2021