Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Dalí, in Florida

Since my last visit at Le Centre Pompidou to see Dalí, I looked for an opportunity to visit the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, FL. A great number of paintings from the artist's surrealist period were on loan from the American museum contributing to the major retrospective in Paris..
Why the location on the West Coast of Florida? The collection from Reynolds and Eleanore Morse, friends of  Dalí, was initially in Ohio and was relocated to St Petersburg through the initiative of a local attorney combined with the financial support of the city itself and the state of Florida. The building housing the collection was conceived by the architect Yann Weymouth of HOK and opened in 2011. The minimalist cube shape is softened by glass bubbles bringing to life an otherwise austere construction built to withstand category 5 hurricanes due to its location along the Tampa bay. Surrounded by gardens, looking at the sea, the site could not be more auspicious. Matching the outside, the white atrium is elegant with its helical staircase, a reference to Dalí's interest with spirals and the structure of DNA.

The exhibition located on the third floor presents the collection in chronological order. After a brief introduction illustrated by the first piece collected by the Morses's family Daddy Long Leg of the Evening- Hope!, 1940, it goes on with early paintings from Spain, the works hanging along the walls and rows of parallel wooden partitions. Self-portraits, landscapes, still lifes, portraits, the succession of paintings is a tribute to the large collection. In an attempt to  interrupt the otherwise monotonous display, titles like "Early Works", "Anti-Art", "Surrealism" in large letters introduce different sections of the exhibition. The Surrealist period is filling most of the remnant of the gallery with a succession of smaller works, but characteristic with their symbols, insects, ostrich eggs, Gala... and the exhibition ends with "salons", wider spaces illuminated by skylights, allowing larger canvasses of the late works. At the time of my visit, Santiago El Grande, 1957, was temporarily on loan from the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in New Brunswick, Canada. Dalí's experiments with different styles and media including sand, gravel like Miró, are well represented although the collection appears short of works from his cubist period which occupied a whole section of the exhibition at Le Centre Pompidou.

The second wing of gallery space on the third floor offered a temporary exhibition titled The Royal Inheritance, paintings bequeathed by the artist to the Kingdom of Spain, on loan from the Museo Reina Sofía in exchange for the works provided for the exposition Dalí which traveled from Paris to Madrid in April. Early nudes from the 1918-1924 period, Portrait of Gala with Turban,1939, a copy of Grand Masters, or Gala from 1965, a hazy symbolic portrait, more still lifes, the show felt like an addendum to the permanent collection. It included also a painting from 1928, an attempt to abstract during Dalí's "Anti-Art" period, a few not so well-known late works from the 80's showing Dalí's interest in science, physics, mathematics or optics (with a small stereoscopic painting inspired by Velázquez, Las Meninas,1976, where two images fuse in one if looking from a distance) and three sculptures, New Amsterdam, 1974, the famous Venus de Milo with Drawers, 1964, and the Lobster Telephone from 1936 randomly placed in the gallery.  The pamphlet prepared at the occasion of the exhibition saved the show with its brief history of the works pointing out their significance in the context of the artist's career.
The visit included a fifteen minutes movie and the unavoidable gift shop on the first floor but missed mentioning Dalí's outlandish views, his political interventions, his legacy, not only as a painter, but a provocateur, his impact on pop art and more...  but if one is interested in his surrealist period and his early works, this is the place and at the risk of sounding like a travel writer, I recommend a visit to the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, FL!

no photographs allowed in the galleries
photographs by the author:
details of the helical staircase, Dali Museum
"La Vache Spectrale", Salvador Dali, 1928, Centre Pompidou, Paris
"Architecture surrealiste", Salvador Dali, 1932, Kunstmuseum, Bern

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