Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Dali Museum More Striking Than Ever

“I don't like the idea of 'understanding' a film. I don't believe that rational understanding is an essential element in the reception of any work of art. Either a film has something to say to you or it hasn't. If you are moved by it, you don't need to have it explained to you. If not, no explanation can make you moved by it.” ~Federico Fellini

On the last day of 2011 I had the privilege of being able to visit the Dali Museum in St. Petersberg, FL. The Spanish-born painter is one the few megastars of the contemporary art world who was a household name in his own lifetime. His draftsmanship is unsurpassed, and his images astonishing, even if not always comprehensible. And perhaps it is this incomprehensibility that some people find off-putting about Dali’s work. But as Fellini stated, you do not need to understand something in order to engage it or be moved by it.

Most people define the enigmatic Dali as a surrealist, but in point of fact that would be like calling Bob Dylan a folk singer. Dylan was part of the folk music once, but it was only a phase. The same with Dali, who embraced the surrealists much the same way folk singers embraced Greenwich Village at one time.

The new Dali museum provides a well-conceived structure than enables visitors to see the phases of Dali’s work through its many progressions, from early works to anti-art, through surrealism to his nuclear mysticism and mature works. Visitors to the gallery can opt in for a walking tour or use the free headset earphones which give you more control over your pace. Each of the major works has a number on the wall that you punch in to your keypad and a narrator gives you’re the lowdown. You also have a green arrow button which you can push if you would like even more detail on the piece you are looking at.

The original Dali Museum has been drawing visitors from all over the world since opening in 1980. In January 2011 this new shrine to Dali opened its doors for a new generation of fans. There are more than 2000 pieces of art and 96 of his most influential or most important oil paintings housed here. The three-story building itself is a work of art as well as a safety zone, as it is designed to withstand even hurricanes. The Dali works are all located on the third floor. The former museum presented his paintings on the first floor, which might be susceptible to damage in the event of a major flood.

Dali’s paintings have several features that make his style compelling. First is the superb skill as a painter. Second is the sense of mystery that surrounds so many of the scenes he portrays. Third is the way he distorts all manner of things to absurd degrees. Fourth are the themes of sensuality, eroticism and mysticism that permeate so much of his work. If it was his intent to shock, he succeeds… and yet, we keep looking, trying to understand these bizarre landscapes peopled by perversity. Two other recurring themes in Dali are that of producing optical illusions using positive and negative spaces within the picture, and his repeated references to art history.

The Dali works assembled here in St. Petersburg are actually the collection of Reynolds and Eleanor Morse of Cleveland, Ohio. I remember while in college at Ohio U. having a strong desire to see the Dali collection that the Morse’s made public in Beachwood beginning in 1971. I never followed through.

After Dali graduated from the Surrealist school, he chose not to participate in the developing abstract movement, choosing instead to draw inspiration from Renaissance painters, and Gala. But my favorite pieces when I visited five years ago and this past weekend are the enormous canvases which are themselves fully developed stories. The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus is near twelve feet wide and sixteen feet tall. The Ecumenical Council and the complicated Homage to Crick and Watson are similarly enormous.

But my favorite continues to be the Hallucinogenic Toreador. According to the story (with Dali all stories are suspect as self-made mythologies) Dali purchased a box of Venus brand pencils with Venus de Milo on the box and saw a face in the shadows cast by the famous statue. Dali spent sixteen months on this remarkably complex painting.

And then there are the films. In one section of the third floor gallery we find hundreds of illustration and two large walls with movies projected onto them. Suffice it to say that the films were comical and bizarre, and due to my own time limitations I only watched a portion as the activities in the films did not imply that a storyline was in progress.

All this to say that on your next visit to Tampa, be sure to schedule a little side trip to one of the most significant collections you’ll see anywhere.

For more, visit this YouTube Tribute to Dali.

No comments: