Enigma, Spirals and Salvador Dali

Salvadore Dali MuseumThe new Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, was intentionally designed to reflect the mind of Dali.

A walk up the spiral staircase isn’t just a means to get from one floor to another. It was created to emphasize Dali’s obsession with the double helical shape of the DNA molecule. To him, the very basis of life would prove to be spiral. His art would reflect this principal. Note how the concrete spiral continues upward beyond the stairs representing Dali’s thoughts on infinity.

Salvadore Dali Museum

Once on the third floor, you are now in an area that erupts into a large free-form geodesic glass bubble known as the “Enigma” named after a 1929 Dali painting. Made up of 1,062 triangular glass panels it opens the museum to the bay and sky while forming an atrium roof that draws in natural daylight. This is the first use of this type of free-form geodesic geometry in the United States and no two glass panels are alike. Amazing.

Salvadore Dali Museum

It’s a photographer’s play house. Angles. Shadows. Shapes.

Looking out at the beautiful bay is the Mathematical Garden which allows students and visitors to experience the relationship between math and nature. Also, there is a labyrinth or maze in the southeast corner which invites exploration.

Salvadore Dali Museum

The building itself is known as the right-angled Euclidean “treasure box” because of Dali’s fixation with geometry. The architects also had their own requirements. Build a museum that would withstand a category 5 hurricane, hence the thick concrete walls and industrial shape look from the exterior.

Salvadore Dali Museum

Internationally recognized architect Yann Weymouth, who also served as chief of design for I.M. Pei for both the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and for the Grand Louvre in Paris was responsible for this fantastical and surrealistic design for the HOK architect firm.

The gift shop is a destination in itself. The Rainy Day Taxi is a Rolls Royce with a diver behind the wheel as he is covered with water. One can’t help but notice the praying mantis and colorful Dali umbrellas suspended from the ceiling.

This museum houses the most comprehensive collection of Dali’s art outside of Spain.

We planned this trip in December to coincide with the special Picasso exhibit entitled, Two Legends Side by Side.

Even though the work by these two artists was thematically grouped, Picasso’s art was dwarfed by the magnitude of the Dali collection. However, the self-guided audio tour provided much detail into the mind and art of these two unique men. We weren’t able to take photos in the combined gallery, but were able to in the main Dali gallery.

Docent-led tours are educational and entertaining. This woman was decorated for the part.

Salvadore Dali Museum

I know very little of Dali’s background, but I learned that he incorporated Euclid’s math into some of his art. Known as the Golden Ratio or what photographers call the rule of thirds, he found this pleasing in art and represented the natural world, like the grouping of seeds in the common sunflower, an ordered and methodical arrangement which he felt is very appealing to our human eyes. The Sacrament of the Last Supper hanging in our National Gallery is a good example of mathematical structure.

Dali, one of the most famous Surrealist artists, was known for his wild art and public personality to match. He once said, “It is not necessary of the public to know whether I am joking or whether I am serious, just as it is not necessary for me to know it myself.”

The Surrealist art movement opened the doors to a style of art that the world had never before seen. Odd techniques were used to paint and interpret images of the subconscious and the dream world to bring metaphor and meaning to their work.

During the 1930’s his style of surrealism is depicted in:

Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in Their Arm the Skins of an Orchestra

Salvadore Dali Museum

Dali and his wife Gala fled war-torn Europe and lived in the US from 1940-1948. It was during this period that he no longer considered himself a surrealist. Instead, he turned to classical art and realism. His oil on canvas, Eucharistic Still Life painted in 1952 shows his interest in the Renaissance. This piece I could understand.

Salvadore Dali Museum

In 1931, he painted his most famous painting, The Persistence of Memory which illustrates melting watches. However between 1952 and 1954 he painted The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory. He said he was inspired one hot day while working in his studio when he noticed some runny Camembert cheese.

Salvadore Dali Museum

It is not clear why these melting watches are so startling and memorable, but they do suggest several powerful associations. According to art analysts, they illustrate how time can be fluid, as in a dream. But a more essential and threatening association concerns our dependence upon clocks. The world runs by the clock – scheduling events is essential for life to function normally. If clocks melt, time becomes meaningless, and there is no way to control activities, leading to chaos.

Reacting to the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Dali began to focus on religious themes. In the early 1950’s he referred to his work as the principles of Nuclear Mysticism. He wanted to reanimate his art with spirituality as can be seen in the following. But, of course, he drew himself into the picture.

Salvadore Dali Museum

One of a number of large paintings Dali completed in this era was The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus which stands a massive 14 feet tall by 9 feet wide. The painting was commissioned by Huntington Hartford, an American businessman, who was heir to the A&P Supermarket, for the opening of his museum, Gallery of Modern Art, in New York. The museum was located on Columbus circle, hence the inspiration for the subject of the painting. As a devout Roman Catholic, Dali portrayed Columbus as the Christian savior, bringing the true church and salvation to the new world.

Salvadore Dali Museum

In the 1960’s Dali experimented with Pop and Op Art, as well as Abstract Expressionism, which eventually led him to creating holographs during the 1970’s.

Can you make out Abraham Lincoln’s profile in the following?

Salvadore Dali Museum

We are so glad we visited this museum which is located only a couple of hours away from us, making return trips easy to do in one day. It is on Florida’s Top Attraction’s list and I can see why.

“Each morning when I awake, I experience again a supreme pleasure – that of being Salvador Dali.” ~ Salvador Dali  

 1904 – 1989

Salvadore Dali Museum


About travelerlynne

Traveler. Writer. Retired Educator.Traveling on and off the beaten path with my photographer husband. Volunteering locally as well as in Haiti and Tanzania, an enriching and humbling experience. A sun lover! Shelling, boating, fishing and watching sunsets. Growing mango, banana, key lime,and pineapple.Making smoothies and chutneys. Enjoying family and friends! Savoring each new day!
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27 Responses to Enigma, Spirals and Salvador Dali

  1. cindy knoke says:

    Your photos are fabulous! What an amazing building~

  2. Lynn Sarda says:

    This posting is so informative, rich with information. And your photos are terrific.

    Sent from my iPad


  3. What a fascinating read and wonderful photos, Lynne. I’ve always enjoyed Dali’s work when I’ve see it, and I remember buying a couple of prints when we were first married. The crutches, the half open drawers and the melting watches, really appealed to something within me, although I wasn’t sure why. What a wonderfully talented eccentric he was. I would love to visit this amazing museum one day.

    • The docent led tours are excellent. They seem to be passionate about Dali and know their art history. A combination of that with the self guided ear phones provides much information. You would love a visit here, Sylvia. An amazing place. The theme of the disintegration of time (melting clocks) can be found in the garden and gift shop. Thanks for your comments.

  4. great post, and lucky for me i m on higher=speed internet.. all of the images loaded, yippee! thank you so much for sharing this- quite timely, though the people (tour) i am with have been discussing frank lloyd wright and his influence on architecture…

    those steps are soothing – beautiful design!!

  5. Am glad you were able to see the whole post, Lisa. Quite an interesting museum experience. I had no idea of the art and math connection behind the genius of Dali. I would love to see some Frank L. Wright designs. Safe and fun travels to you.

  6. Madhu says:

    I would go just for the building Lynne. Looks fabulous! I do not understand much of Dali’s work either, but I still find them intriguing. Especially the amazing variety of styles employed. Thanks for a detailed and informative post.

    • The building is an attraction in itself and it takes sunshine to make it appealing for photography. At least the art collection was a blend of his styles which made it more interesting. Thanks for commenting, Madhu.

  7. Great post Lynne – I learned lots, inspires me to head that direction soon.

  8. Kan says:

    Very interesting post, Lynne. That building looks great… I would be so distracted taking photos of it and not pay enough attention to the art displays 🙂 Didn’t know much of his work, except the famous “melting clock”. I love that quote… gives such a sense of his personality 🙂

    • Yes, better his artwork grace someone else’s walls and not mine, but the architecture is fun to photograph. I wasn’t even aware of the “melting clock” artwork until my visit. Quite a personality.Thanks for commenting, Kan.

  9. Kan says:

    I just came across this in a list of the most outrageous requests by hotel guests, and had to share with you 🙂
    “One of the hotel’s most outrageous guests was the Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí, who spent at least one month per year at the Le Meurice. His behavior often lived up to the surrealism of his works of art: once he demanded that a herd of sheep be brought up to his room and, upon their arrival, Dalí took out his pistol and shot at them. (Luckily, the gun was filled with blanks.) Another time, he asked the staff to capture flies from the Tuileries Gardens, paying them a fee of five francs (about one euro) per fly. Over the years, Dalí became close with certain members of the staff, to whom he would give autographed lithographs of his work as a Christmas tip.”

  10. Oh my, oh my. What a story. I remember a piece of art on the wall with lots of flies and they symbolized wartime planes. Interesting. I hope those who were tipped with lithographs realized what they had and made out well in an auction house. Thanks for this story, Kan. It really add to the surrealistic nature of this man. One doesn’t know what to expect. 🙂

  11. Letizia says:

    What a wonderful museum! I love the staircase. When my mother was young, she was outside his house trying to catch a glimpse of him when he suddenly popped out from a bush and said, “Boo!”. I always love this story of the two of them 🙂

  12. Tahira says:

    What a wonderfully detailed and enlightening post, Lynne. I truly enjoyed reading this and looking at your photos. I would love to visit simply for the building! I too, do not “get” Dali’s art but am totally intrigued by it and by him after reading your post.

  13. Thanks, Tahira for taking the time to read the details. I enjoyed the building and struggled with the art. I almost decided to just cover the building and nothing else in this post, but the more I read about what I actually saw, the more fascinated I became. I liked the research.

  14. I am a little dense when it comes to interpreting paintings, but somehow, his work really captures you full attention. And I love the way you have interpreted the melting clocks…
    This is definitely another addition to my bucket list! Thank you for this post! 🙂

  15. I hope you get to do some traveling while you are in the States, Sumithra. Dali is a complex personality and artist, but I’m glad I took the time to find out more. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  16. Girl Gone Expat says:

    Great shots of the Dali inspired spiral staircase with the ‘Engima’ in the background. When it comes to Dali’s artwork I never understood it/liked it. My brother loves it, guess it just isn’t my style:)

  17. restlessjo says:

    What a fabulous space, Lynne! I so want to come and play 🙂 And how amazing would it be to have a mind like that? Maybe a bit scary. Many thanks for the lovely share.

  18. Oh, do come and play, Jo. We could have a ball. 😊 What a mind and personality. His childhood was interesting and “scary” and comes through in his art. We’ll be back in Paris in Oct and hope to catch the Picasso Museum which should be open.

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