Celebrate Surrealism in Florida

Ferne Arfin      11 November 2018

Dalí and Magritte – What a knockout combo

Salvator Dalí and René Magritte were giants of 20th century art – the world’s most celebrated surrealists. But, remarkably, they’ve never been presented together in an exhibition dedicated to their work. That’s all about to change as St Petersburg, Florida gets ready for a world class blockbuster show. 

The Salvador Dalí Museum in St Petersburg, Florida, and the Magritte Museum in Brussels, are joining forces for a world-first exhibition showcasing the two artists, side by side. If you’re planning a winter sun break along the Florida Gulf Coast this winter, this is one not to miss.

Magritte & Dalì opens first in Florida, running from December 15, 2018 to May 19, 2019, before moving on to Brussels. Co-curated by experts from both museums, it covers the period from the 1920s to the 1940s. Though the two artists had very different approaches to surrealism, during that period Dalí and Magritte  spent considerable time together and showed in the same surrealist exhibitions.

Magritte’s works – including Le BaiserLa Magie noire , L’Oiseau de ciel , Dieu n’est pas un saint (God Is No Saint) will be shown alongside selected works from the Dalí Museum collection of 2,100 paintings, drawings, book illustrations, prints, photos, sculptures and manuscripts.

Dalí and the Morse Collection in Florida

You might be surprised to discover that The Dalí Museum in St Petersburg has the world’s largest assembly of Salvador Dalí ‘s work outside of the Catalan artist’s own museum in Figueres, Spain. How that happened is a tantalizing story of unexpected connections and, perhaps, obsessions.

It must have been love at first sight when, shortly before their wedding, Eleanor and A. Reynolds Morse, a wealthy Midwestern couple, attended a touring Salvador Dalí exhibition. It ignited a passion that lasted more than 40 years of collecting, patronage and friendship with Dalí and his wife, Gala.

Eventually, after loaning part of their collection to various exhibitions, the couple decided to create a small museum devoted to it. Dalí himself attended the 1971 opening of their first museum, in a building next to their offices in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio.

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By the 1980s, their little museum was overwhelmed by visitors and they launched a nationwide search for a building suitable for the collection and a community suitably committed to support it.

At the same time, St Petersburg, then a bit of a Florida backwater, was looking to boost its status by adding some significant cultural attractions. It was, as they say, a match made in heaven.

Visiting the Dalí Museum

The museum includes work from every period of the artists career and in every medium.  In addition to the Morse Collection that started it all, the museum has made considerable additions over the years.  Among the highlights of the collection are several of the artist’s 18 large masterworks including The Hallucinogenic Toreador, The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus and The Ecumenical Council.

The egg and spiral motifs at the Dali Museum in Florida

The egg and spiral, particular motifs in Dali’s paintings are echoed in the architecture of the museum. ©Ferne Arfin

The museum building alone is worth the trip up the interstate. Yann Weymouth, the architect, incorporated several of Dalí’s visual signatures: a helical staircase that spirals toward the egg-shaped glass roof like a strand of DNA, and the Enigma (pictured top), an off-kilter geodesic dome that fractures the St Petersburg waterfront into hundreds of separate views. Book a tour with a museum “docent” (volunteer) to bring it all back together.

If you are lucky, your docent will be an enthusiast who can take you on a memorable tour through the ins and outs of Dalí’s particular obsessions. On the day I visited, our guide was particularly good at pointing out Dalí’s sexual fixations and peculiar marital arrangements. As you can imagine, we gathered quite an audience as we went along.

The Nitty Gritty

  • Where:  The Salvador Dalí Museum (1 Dalí Blvd, St Petersburg, Florida  33701)
  • Contact: Telephone +1 727 823 3767 or email visitorexperience@thedali.org
  • Open: Daily, 10am to 5:30 pm and to 8pm on Thursdays. The museum is closed Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day. There are also occasional closings for rehanging the galleries. Check the website for those.
  • Admission: Standard adult admission is $24. A range of discounts is available for school children, high school and college students and seniors.
  • Tours: Public gallery tours are free with the price of admission and are offered free, throughout the day. Private docent tours for one to nine people must be booked 48 hours in advance and cost $100 plus the price of admission for up to 10 people.
  • Getting there: The museum is on the St. Petersburg waterfront, facing the South Yacht Basin and next to the Mahaffey Theater. Dali Blvd. is at the end of I-175. The nearest airport for international visitors is Tampa International.
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