New Dali Museum a Journey into the Future

ST. PETERSBURG (2011-1-10) -

It's been years in the making, and on January 11, at 11:11 a.m. - the wraps will be removed from the new Salvador Dali Museum. Museum director Hank Hine takes us on a walking tour of the new building - starting at the front door.

"Our visitors walk under a beautiful cantilevered section of the building that's held up by a massive stone that dribbles water," Hine says. "It's a wet, creative, protean kind of feeling. Everything changing, everything alive. We call it the Grotto, and it's got a living wall of plants and a fountain... And the visitor passes over the water. So you're going from the ordinary to the surreal."

Hine has been waiting for this very "real" moment for a long time. It's taken that long to raise the $36 million to building this multi-faceted gem of a building on the St. Petersburg waterfront. He continues to the front door, which will open for the first time at 11:11 a.m. - Dali had a thing about numbers.

"And then the door - which is like something right out of "Get Smart" - responds to your presence and slides open like a whisper. And now we're inside," he says. "And we're greeted by - believe it or not - the sounds of thunder. That's our "Rainy Taxi" - "Rainy Rolls-Royce," and it's an homage to Dali, a surreal sculpture-object he made in the 1930s."

One of Dali's most famous objects - his original Rainy Rolls - which is on display at the Theatre of the Absurd in Dali's native Spain. In addition to the effects of a car that rains inside - don't worry, you won't get wet - they've added thunder in homage to Tampa Bay's position as the lightnight capital of the nation.

"And then you proceed to the visitor's information center, past the Rainy Rolls, and that's at the base of a spiral helix staircase that is like a giant bedspring potato made out of concrete," Hine continues. "Elegant, beautiful, it goes to the third floor, and its formal axis continues spiraling heavenwards in this gesture toward the sky, up toward our geodesic dome."

The new building is almost as much an attraction as the artwork stored inside. The lobby's most prominent feature is a series of multi-faceted glass triangles that gives a commanding view of Tampa Bay. And unlike their old museum about a half-mile away, this is built to withstand hurricane-force winds.

Director Hine continues his tour upstairs, where one of Dali's famous melting watches is the first thing you'll see.

"So we're walking through the main galleries now," he says. "When we laid out the galleries, we laid them out with the idea that we would like to show every painting we own. So the galleries were laid out very specifically for this collection. And the visitor will have kind of a counterclockwise circuit chronologically through Dali's career, highlighted in each room by one of the late paintings that are luminous there under the natural light."

Skylights dot the gallery, giving a warm glow to many of Dali's paintings that used to be lit only with artificial light. That, Hine says, is the way the artist probably wanted it.

"He painted it in natural light, and his studio in Port Legat was set up so that natural light from the north would filter in. So we assume that was his intention. Historically, that was the reason for inventing oil paint - something that was really strong and light-fast, so it could endure direct light."

Even though the new museum is considerably larger than the old version, the intention here is to create intimate spaces for viewing the Spaniard's artwork. The old museum had a grand viewing hall where Dali's larger works - such as the floor-to-ceiling "Hallucinogenic Toreador" - could be seen from the end of the room. Here, it's hung in a nook in a wall that isolates the work.

All of this didn't come cheap. The bulk of the $36 million capital cost came from private individuals. The city of St. Petersburg chipped in, giving a 99-year lease on the prime real estate next to the Mahaffey Theatre. The city and Pinellas County then added the final $5 million after their fundraising fell a bit short. And state grants added another $8 million.

Hine says it's a constant struggle to get money for the arts, but he says the public investment is worth it.

"I think that every culture is worth only what the most persistent and imaginative person can create is - no matter how much hay we grow," he says. "And we have to invest in those things which define us and which inspire us."

The grand opening will begin at 9:30, with a "surrealistic procession" from the old museum to the new. There, after 28 years, visitors will finally get a chance to view all of the 96 works by Dali in one visit.

Soundslides

staircase looking down
Dali Museum
Museum director Hank Hine takes us on a walking tour of the new building - starting at the front door.
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