Monday, September 22, 2014

The Dali Museum

I became obsessed with Salvador Dali at a very early age, and a lot of you out there are probably in the same boat as me. So if you ever have occasion to trek down to St. Peterburg where the largest and greatest repository of the man's work is perpetually on display, let me warn you, it will put the zap on your head.

To finally see all these paintings in person, after imprinting yourself for decades to think of them almost as free-floating memes the size of pages of coffee-table art books, well, it changes you. I damn near had a nervous breakdown the first time I went, and felt like collapsing with exhaustion at the end of the half-century journey to get from there to here.

Many of the paintings that you thought of as displaying astonishingly lifelike photorealism turn out to be surprisingly painterly, and part of the photorealistic effect comes from the distance at which we see them in books. (Did Andy Warhol say "all paintings look better in art books" or did I dream it? Oh well, he should have.) And many of the paintings that you thought were perhaps somewhat secondary or tertiary works actually end up being among the most amazing - because what the books didnt tell you (or maybe they did and we never bothered to think about the dimensions) is that they're postcard sized, and all those painstaking details you see in the books are so intricate they're difficult to see in person without a magnifying glass. S'truth.

The museum is home to 7 of the 18 masterwork paintings by DalĂ­ (including The Hallucinogenic Toreador and The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus), the most of any museum in the world. To be considered a masterwork these paintings must be at least 5 feet in any direction and have been worked on for over a year. I'm told their building (which is basically a giant concrete block with some glass dome elements in the back) is one of the most hurricane-proof structures in the state. Let's pray they're right.

Alas, photography of any kind is verboten at the Dali, so I can't regale you with images of my trips there. A shame too, because during the "Warhol at the Dali" co-exhibition, they had the employees wearing Warhol wigs. Some carried it off more successfully than others.

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