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St. Pete’s Dalí Museum immerses visitors in the world of the surrealist master


St. Petersburg, Florida — A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse had good taste in art.

They tasted really good – and very good timing.

On March 21, 1943, the Ohio couple purchased their first Salvador Dalí painting, “Papa Longlegs of the Evening, Hope!” Then they bought another, and one after. They would become important patrons of Dalí and quickly befriend the Spanish surrealist master, who was one of the most famous artists of the 20th century.

Over time, their house became a de facto Dalí museum. When they wanted to share their collection with the world, they opened a small museum in their office complex in Beachwood, Ohio. But so many people found it that they overran the space.

In the 1970s, after offering to donate their collection to ensure it would stay together in perpetuity, the city of St. Petersburg, Florida campaigned to house it, and the Dalí Museum was born in 1982.

Today, the museum occupies its second home there, a magnificent surrealist-inspired complex that complements the art it houses.

“The Dalí Museum has over 2,000 watercolors and drawings, hundreds and hundreds of graphics and sculptures. But the main part of our collection are amazing oil paintings. Here we have some of the pieces highlights of his career that helped to really tell his story,” said Peter Tush, the museum’s senior curator for education.

Among the paintings is “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory”, which, with its melting clocks, references one of Dalí’s most famous works, “The Persistence of Memory” from 1931.

“Twenty years later, he takes his original painting and reconstructs it as a metaphor for the atomic universe. It’s one of our visitors’ favorite features. And it’s a great way to think of Dalí as a ‘artist in constant transition’, Tush mentioned.

The museum has eight of Dalí’s “masterpieces”, a term coined by A. Reynolds Morse for very large Dalí paintings, and the museum has developed an augmented reality (AR) experience to allow visitors to enjoy it in an immersive way using their smartphones. The feature calls for a 30-second video that animates the painting and tells key aspects of Dalí’s story.

Another AR experience lets you “walk inside” one of his paintings.

“It’s absolutely amazing. It’s one way we continue to grow our collection by using technology to see in different ways,” Tush said.

Dalí’s work is housed in a museum which is itself a work of art. Designed by renowned HOK architect Yann Weymouth, the museum features an asymmetrical geodesic structure that would be perfectly at home in Dalí’s fantasy world.

“It seems to seep out of the building, just like Dalí’s paintings. Inside, there’s a very unique spiral staircase that was made on site, almost a sculpture. And that’s a reference to the Dalí’s obsession with spirals,” said Tush, who said Dalí was one of the first artists to be inspired by the structure of the DNA molecule.

“So there are a lot of spirals that appear in his paintings. And we were able to pay homage to that with the spiral staircase that holds the whole building together, unites it and brings our guests up to the third floor where find the collection.” Tush said.

The museum aims to create an experience that leaves visitors feeling rejuvenated, thinking about themselves and the world in new ways.

“Dalí definitely has that magic,” Tush said.

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