A sunny Friday afternoon in Bradenton found us not in the pool in the backyard, or at the nearby beach, or even out to eat at one of the many seafood joints this area has to offer. Instead, my grandparents were curled up with thick biographies while Josh and I found ourselves battling a 1000 piece puzzle. The reason for our introversion? We had become smitten with Salvador Dalí the day before; the biographies that my grandparents read were of this twentieth-century Spanish surrealist, and our puzzle depicted one of his many mind-blowing masterpieces.
Salvador Dalí has always been a very vague interest of mine. His most famous painting, The Persistence of Memory, hung on the walls of my Spanish classroom in middle school, and that image of the melting clocks in the desert made me want to see more that this strange painter had to offer. It wasn’t until we all made a visit to the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, that I was able to learn more about him and his artwork.
The exterior of the museum building should have been a clue as to just what sort of eccentricity we were about to encounter. We were greeted by Dalí’s signature etched onto the concrete walls of the building, and a huge window formation formed much of the other side of the building around the corner. We entered the museum, paid for our tickets, and climbed up the spiral staircase to the third floor where the exhibit was.
Until our tour started, we waited by the wall of windows. In the distance, we saw the boats in the Tampa Bay; beneath us, we looked at the interesting sights on the grounds of the museum, including its “avant-garden.”
When it was time for the tour to start, our guide led us through the gallery, taking us on a journey through Dalí’s life and artwork. Even though I was the only one who had any prior interest in Dalí, my grandparents and Josh became just as fascinated with this bizarre artist as I was.
Though photos of his artwork were prohibited, I barely had time to regret not being able to take pictures; his paintings were infused with so much meaning and symbolism that I had to be pried away from each picture so that we could move on to the next piece. Most of Dalí’s work was actually unfamiliar to me, and I was surprised to learn that he was not just a surrealist painter: he experimented with styles such as impressionism, realism, pointillism, cubism, and many others. Some of his most impressive grand masterpieces are saturated with optical illusions, layered meanings, hidden images, and rich symbolism.
The most impressive painting that we encountered–one that still astounds me even a week after seeing it–depicted Dalí’s wife and muse, Gala, standing naked at a window and looking at the water while an image of Christ on the cross hovers in the sky above the sea. Our guide told us that when Dalí painted this picture in 1976, he was interested in pixelation, and he wanted to see how pixelated a portrait could become while still being identifiable. “It worked,” I whispered to Josh, pointing out one of the tiles on the wall in the picture, which displayed a pixelated image of Abraham Lincoln.
Already, I believed in Dalí’s brilliance, but I was even more astonished when I discovered that when you walk farther away from the painting, the whole thing morphs into a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. It is going to take a lot for me to be impressed with any other artwork after seeing Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln. If you click on the underlined title to look at the picture, you’ll be able to see the illusion by stepping away from your computer until the image morphs into Honest Abe.
The four of us left the exhibit, disoriented by this genius who was so brilliant and yet so puzzling. We wound our way back down the spiral staircase, each of us lost in thought. We had learned some fascinating things about this man. To conclude our trip, we stopped by the gift shop and bought Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea in the form of a jigsaw puzzle, and then we left the building and wandered to the avant-garden.
As we walked toward the Wish Tree, we all tore off our Dalí Museum entrance wristbands. It had been a rewarding afternoon, and we all reflected on this as we wrote a wish on the back of our bracelets and tied them to the tree.
*Another big thanks goes to my grandparents for a wonderfully surreal afternoon.
If you would like to visit the Dalí Museum, more information can be found on their website.