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ATLANTA TO ST. PETERSBURG


My last post shared some of the excitement expressed by the droves of visitors to the all-night “closing” of the major exhibition at the High Museum in Atlanta, Dali: The Later Years. Well now we have the numbers.

When we again linked up a couple of days later in St. Petersburg, Florida, the show’s curator Elliott King told me that over 15,000 people waited in line, paid their money and viewed the exhibit. That would be phenomenal, a dream or impossible for almost any other artist, but not for Dali and not for a show of this quality and importance.

It was evident from the people swirling around Elliott and me that they considered seeing the show before it closed was a personal priority. It was fun to point out to people that the tall young man with the sequined tie and sequined shoes standing next to me was the curator who had, in one year, identified the works he wanted to display, borrowed them from museums and private collections, written the catalog, received and hung the shipped artworks and hosted the surrounding events. The responses were always such as to make Elliott’s mother very proud. They also showed that the viewers had some idea of the curator’s Herculean task.

OPENING OF THE NEW SALVADOR DALI MUSEUM

Well, we were finally at the anticipated date – 1/11/2011 – the opening of the magnificent new building that will henceforth offer to the world the unrivalled collection and changing exhibitions of The Salvador Dali Museum. Not only that, but I was waking up to the day in the Hilton Bayside Hotel just a couple of blocks away in St. Petersburg, Florida. I was there because Elliott King had been kind enough to call me when he arrived in Atlanta and heard an ice storm was forecast for Monday when he and I were scheduled to fly to Tampa. We both changed our airline reservations to get out of Dodge on Sunday. I am so grateful for this kindness and view with horror the possibility that I might otherwise have been stuck in Atlanta when the airport was shut down. I would not then have been waking up to the great day in St. Petersburg.

The surreal parade from the wonderful old museum to the new building was great fun. Lots of people dressed up in Dalinian costumes and there were fun marching groups with props, including some I never identified. The route was lined with television and other cameras and six broadcast trucks had their antennas raised for transmission.

Having been to the members’ preview at the museum when I arrived from Atlanta on the previous Sunday, I was less concerned with seeing the interior and installation in the new building, than I was in seeing the characters who showed up, some other Dali heavy hitters, the panel of speakers and S.A.R. la Infanta Cristina of Spain. The Princess, whose life my wife well knows from HOLA! magazine, gave a generous short speech before cutting the ribbon, one half of which will be delivered to the Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali in Figures, Spain.

Since I first visited the (now old) Dali Museum in 1987 to do the first of three appraisals of the collection for founder A. Reynolds Morse, I have examine each piece in the collection under magnification, so my visit during the preview was a visit to many old friends. No longer are the huge masterpieces lined up on a single wall somewhat remote from visitors. Each has its own alcove and visitors can get really close to each. This is great for viewers and I hope it will never prove to be too close. The small, intimate works, each protected by glass, continue to be lined up for close viewing. I assume that the guards, as was the practice in the previous facility, will have to clean nose and finger prints off the glass twice a day.

It was good to again see Curator Peter Tush and discuss how we thought the building would “work”. There is no question that it is an inspiring design. It is dominated by a free-standing three story high spiral staircase on the inside and an irregularly shaped glass dome that flows from the roof to the ground on the outside. Constructed of 1,026 individually sized triangles of glass, the “Glass Enigma” suggests that a Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome may have melted in the Florida sun. From the atrium inside, it opens the building to a lovely exterior view of gardens, palm trees and a yacht marina across the street.

The Salvador Dali Museum has housed the world’s largest and best collection of original Salvador Dali paintings in St.Petersburg since 1982. It has become the state’s most-attended museum (over 200,000 a year) and will certainly attract even more visitors with its new building.

Everyone who works for the museum, the outstanding army of volunteers and the movers and shakers of St. Petersburg can be very proud of their new gem. The Dali world has a new icon at which people can experience the genius and universal appeal of Salvador Dali. I am so pleased to have been part of the celebration.