Thursday, March 08, 2007

Salvador Dalí Museum Celebrates 25 Years in St. Petersburg

Salvador Dalí Museum Celebrates 25 Years in St. Petersburg


Salvador Dalí, Daddy Longlegs of the Evening--Hope! (1940); Salvador Dalí Museum.

ST. PETERSBURG, FL.- March 7, 2007 marks the 25th anniversary of the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. To trace the roots of the Salvador Dalí Museum, you have to start in, of all places, Cleveland. In 1942, a year after their marriage, a young Ohio couple bought themselves a belated wedding present—a painting with images of limp figures, a spider and ants on a barren landscape representing the exile caused by World War II. Not the most obvious wedding present, but to the couple it was the first piece of what would become one of the most acclaimed collections of a single modern artist in the world and would lead to a 45-year friendship with the artist.

The Morse Collection - Shortly before they were married in 1942, Cleveland industrialist, A. Reynolds Morse and Eleanor Reese attended a traveling Salvador Dalí retrospective at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Thrilled by the show, intrigued by the artist’s subject matter, and impressed by his draftsmanship, they bought their first painting a year later. Daddy Longlegs of the Evening—Hope! (1940) began a collection that would culminate in the early 1970s with the purchases of The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1969-70), The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (1958-59) and The Ecumenical Council (1960) to complete the most comprehensive collection of original Dalí work in the world.

After purchasing Daddy Longlegs, the Morses arranged to meet Dalí and his wife Gala and they quickly became part of the artist’s inner circle of friends. As friends, they frequently attended gallery openings and previews, affording them the first choice of Dalí’s new works.

Until 1971, the Morses displayed their entire Dalí collection in their Cleveland home. When they agreed to loan over 200 pieces to a New York retrospective in 1965, they realized that their collection deserved a home of its own. The first Dalí Museum was built adjacent to their Injection Molding Supply Company office building in Beachwood, Ohio. It opened amid great fanfare in 1971—with Dalí himself presiding over the opening—but quickly outgrew its new home.

As they began a nationwide search for a permanent home, the Morses offered to donate the entire multi-million dollar collection to any museum willing to keep all of the artwork and archival material intact to preserve the collection’s historical integrity. Although several institutions were interested in receiving the works, no museum came forward to accept the gift on those terms.

Dalí Comes to St. Petersburg - The Wall Street Journal reported the Morse’s unusual situation on January 18, 1980 in an article titled; “U.S. Art World Dillydallies Over Dalís.” St. Petersburg, Florida attorney James W. Martin read the article and convinced community leaders to contact the Morses with the bold idea that the collection belonged in St. Petersburg. Following his initial contact, Martin enlisted the enthusiastic support of community leaders and city officials, with the result that the Morses first agreed to visit St. Petersburg, and eventually agreed to donate the collection for benefit of the people of the State of Florida. In addition to showcasing Dali’s work, the museum would be a flagship for Spanish and Catalan heritage and the location — on Bayboro Harbor — was selected by Mr. Morse in part for its resemblance to Cadaqués, Dalí’s childhood home on the Mediterranean Sea.

The Salvador Dalí Museum opened to the public on March 7, 1982 and has attracted millions of visitors from around the world (over 50% of its visitors are from outside the State of Florida). The collection now consists of 2,140 total pieces including 95 oil paintings and over 100 watercolors and drawings. Highlights of the initial permanent collection include: Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory (1952-54), The Weaning of Furniture-Nutrition (1934), The Basket of Bread (1926), Still Life (Sandia) (1924), Self-Portrait (Figueres) (1921), Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire (1940), Nature Morte Vivante (Still Life – Fast Moving) (1956), and Eggs on a Plate Without a Plate (1932).

The Museum continues to acquire new Dalí works to supplement the Morse’s original collection. Of the many acquisitions since the Museum has been in St. Petersburg are three impressive oil paintings—all of them among Dalí’s large master works: Galacidalacidesoxiribunucleicacid (1963), Portrait of My Dead Brother (1963), and Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea Which at Twenty Meters Becomes A Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (1976).

The Museum has one of the most dynamic gift shops in the museum world, something Dalí himself, with his gift for marketing, would undoubtedly approve of. Books and educational materials are the top sellers, allowing visitors to dig deeper into Dalí’s life and work.

Part of the Museum’s mission is to educate the public and promote understanding, enjoyment and scholarly examination of art through the exhibition of works by Salvador Dalí and artists of similar vision. To that end, the Museum welcomes 10,000 students in school groups for free each year. Additional programs have been developed as well to serve the many families with children who visit. Special kid-friendly tours, a printed family gallery guide and the interactive “Breakfast with Dalí,” help introduce children to art, history and Dalí in a fun and engaging manner.

Growing Again - The Museum added a two-story, 11,000 square foot addition in 1989 and conducted major renovations to the galleries in 1995. With the additional space, the Museum became better able to borrow and loan additional works by Dalí and related artists. Special exhibitions that have been curated by or have appeared at the Dalí Museum include:

Andy Warhol at the Dalí
André Masson: the 1930s
A Disarming Beauty, The Venus de Milo
Forms of Cubism
Joan Miró Painted Sculpture
Dalí Centennial: An American Collection
Dali and Mass Culture
Pollock to Pop: America’s Brush With Dalí
Salvador Dalí and a Century of Art from Spain: Picasso to Plensa
Dalí and the Spanish Baroque

Moving Up - As it did twice at its previous Ohio locations, the Dalí Museum has once again outgrown its home. The Museum is currently in the process of securing the funds necessary to move to its future home at the new Progress Energy Center for the Arts on St. Petersburg’s beautiful downtown waterfront. The priceless collection is currently housed in galleries on the ground floor of an old marine warehouse, only yards from Bayboro Harbor, an area likely to flood with even a small storm surge from a tropical system. The new Museum, currently in the design phase, will be built to withstand winds of 165 miles per hour with galleries on the upper floors, to help lessen the possibility of flood damage. Set to open in 2009-2010 the new Dalí Museum will provide a grand and worthy home for the largest collection of Dalí’s works outside of his native Spain.

Dalí himself had envisaged that his U.S. museum would have “walls that breath and pulse imperceptibly.” To that end, the new Salvador Dalí Museum is being designed with a host of “Dalínean” elements to inspire and reach people on a fundamental level. In vision, the new Museum will be an exploration of the avant-garde and will be equally accessible to visitors who have never been to an art museum before as it is to the world’s top art history scholars. With education and research as the Museum’s central mission, the facility will look to examine the role of art not only in the past but also as it relates to today. Much like its namesake was known for looking at the world with a unique vision, the new Salvador Dali Museum will be the embodiment of Dalí’s philosophy, innovation and raw talent.


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