I’m trying to be an optimist but can’t help thinking this is a year full of lasts for our family. As our oldest daughter applies for far flung colleges, I’m learning to let go while trying to savor each moment. So on this day of thanks, I’m almost painfully grateful to be seated next to her, even as she ferociously snaps away on her phone. Time together used to be filled with excursions organized by yours truly. Now I give options like “would you like to sleep in or visit the Dalí Musuem? Would you like to walk to a botanical garden or lounge by pool?” This is how my husband and I find ourselves sans daughters on art outings while on family vacation in St. Petersburg, Florida.
While the small town of St. Petersburg, which neighbors Tampa, is quaint and filled with historic homes on tree lined, brick paved streets, the art scene here is quite cosmopolitan. We have the good fortune to visit the Dalí Musuem, the Museum of Fine Art, and the Raymond James headquarters, which houses 3000 works of art, all collected from living artists and mostly focusing on western and wildlife art. Today’s post focuses on the Dalí Museum which is the largest collection of Salvador Dalí work in the world.
When I visited the museum in 1991 as a Rollins College student, the collection was housed in a scrappy low nondescript building a few inches from busy commercial 3rd Street. My, how things have changed. I’d heard about the new building and the architecture which honors Dalí with its asymmetrical lines, bulbous forms and odd protrusions. Emulating the nonsensical structures within his paintings, with unexpected vanishing points, is the central staircase which winds around into oblivion.
The collection is magnificent, following Dalí’s life and the evolution of his paintings. The one of his sister (above left), was repainted by the artist after estrangement with his family. He added the upside-down rendering which marks a turning point in his painting style as he moved toward inverted forms and altered perspectives. While famous for surreal scenes consisting of references to warped time, hyper-sensualized female figures, and vacuous land expanses, the pieces that startle me the most are those where Dalí masterfully tricks the human eye. Viewers think they see one image, but step back thirty feet and an entirely different painting composition emerges. There were also several pieces that changed drastically when viewed through a camera or iphone, such as the one below of his brother.
Dalí’s understanding of illusion, and ability to impact viewer perception is much more powerful than I realized. It is the work of a genius, which is most evident in his large scale paintings toward the end of our tour. Due to the crowds, I am unable to step back and get unobstructed photos, but below are several detail shots of the huge paintings.
The details and various stylistic elements within each of the large paintings is astounding. How the artist composed such enormous paintings with so many dissonant features – and pulled it all together in a cohesive presentation – is awesome. These are paintings one could view for years and make new discoveries with each viewing. For example, the negative spaces and shapes become representational forms, such as animals, sculptures, and human faces. There are hidden images within hidden images, like floating heads that initially appear to be cloud like shapes. Once the heads are discovered, if the viewer continues to study the shapes, we find little faces within the eye sockets. These discoveries are eerie and jolting and joyful. Then we discover those tiny faces Dalí painted within the eye sockets are replicated elsewhere in the painting. His trickery and symbolism is a gigantic puzzle for viewers to ponder endlessly.
After visiting the main collection, we move on to a special exhibition: Dalí and Schiaparelli. The two artists, one a painter and the other a fabric and fashion designer, collaborated for many years and presented sculptures, clothing and objects they designed together in hopes of encouraging viewers to see regular objects in a new way. As explained in a display: “Schiaparelli and Dalí desired to surprise and provoke their audiences to help them see things in a new way. A key technique for them was to alter familiar objects. By inverting, penetrating or turning things inside out, they give us new ways to understand those objects. They subverted the domestic chest of drawers into a visual pun – a “chest” of drawers.”
The exhibition provides those of us who lack fashion knowledge with a clear lesson in the connection that fashion, fabric and objects have to art and culture. We see two artists examining specific ideas by collaborating and blowing open the various possible materials that can be used to express those ideas. This, once again, reminds me that artists rarely or never work alone, as solitary as the work can seem. Influences abound and collaboration can elevate and expound concepts that would otherwise remain narrowly trapped in the individual artist perspective.
As always, thank you for reading!