A surreal encounter in the heart of Florida: The Dali Museum

I have had nocturnal visitors for as long as I can remember, but instead of being scared of the witching hour, I have long associated it with peaks of inspiration and escapism. As a toddler, I’d find myself glued to the television repeatedly watching Edward Scissorhands and any dark fantasy film that I could get my tiny hands on. Apparently, it was the only thing that would lull me to sleep. 

From the moment I was exposed to the otherworldly, I became excruciatingly aware of my own strangeness. I somehow knew the misunderstood cast of characters that lurked beyond the shadows were my allies. To quote Boris Karloff, “the monster [Frankenstein] was the best friend I ever had.” Whether awake or asleep, my imagination has always come alive at night.

It’s no surprise then, that my favourite artist is Salvador Dali, a larger-than-life character who made a career out of harnessing his dreams for creativity. He famously said, "When we are asleep in this world, we are awake in another”. Naturally, when Hitchcock needed a dream sequence for his psychological thriller, Spellbound, he dialled Dali. The infamous Spanish multi-hyphenate brought surrealism to the masses, forever entwining Freudian dream theory, artistic expression, and the artist with celebrity.

Known for painting, making decorative objects and film that defy rationality and eschew convention, and a talent for turning mundane objects into erotic symbols, Dali’s artistic works require a home that breaks free of confinement and reason. And what better place for a surreal encounter than in Central Florida, a locale Dali had no connection with?

The Enigma

Laying eyes on the Dali Museum, a fantastical and futuristic kaleidoscope structure, was what I can only imagine to be akin to what Salvador Dali felt when he first met his future wife and muse, Gala. Every inch and curve of the building piqued my interest: the warped geodesic wave of glass and steel (known as the “enigma”) engulfs the contrasting concrete trapezoid base. Though you could easily spend a couple of hours walking around the building’s exterior, soaking in the immersive sculpture garden equipped with a Kubrickian labyrinth, it’s impossible not to be lured inside to learn about the figure that inspired a space that stretches the limits of the imagination.

Selfie Spot

With a sumptuous and light-filled cafe aptly titled “Cafe Gala” overlooking the “avant-garden”; an expansive and experiential gift shop that would fill the namesake mass consumerist with glee; and ongoing experiments with virtual reality, the Dali museum has cemented its relevance in a digital, ‘moment-capturing’ age without pandering. Dali was not one to shy away from a photo-op, so resurrecting him as a ‘deep-fake’ to take selfies with visitors is only befitting. Inside the hurricane-proof museum walls lies the most arresting architectural feature: the concrete helical staircase intended to honour Dali’s obsession with DNA. The steps appear to float visitors up to the atrium for a breathtaking view of Tampa Bay.

Walking through the chronologically arranged gallery is not unlike walking through Disney World on time-release acid (I am guessing). His early works, which include landscapes, portraits and still life's, exemplify Dali’s early training as a classical impressionist painter; the subject matter is familiar and untroubled. Before long, the journey takes an Alice in Wonderland-esque turn where familiar landscapes become distorted by holography, melting clocks, spindle-legged horses and anthropomorphic cabinets. With titles like “morphological echo”, “paranoia”, “sentimental colloquy”, “the hallucinogenic toreador”, “daddy longlegs of the evening” and “atmospheric skull sodomizing a grand piano”, you may find yourself asking: Dali painting or heavy metal band? Perhaps the thing I love most about Dali, as exemplified here, is that he was never afraid to hit people with a plot twist. In a world of rigid binaries and labelling, Dali revelled in standing alone. He embraced his weirdness.

Diver in old car
Statue outside the enigma wall

Dali once said, “I try to create fantastic things, magical things, like in a dream. The world needs more fantasy. Our civilization is too mechanical. We can make the fantastic real, and that is more real than that which actually exists.” Like the artist it honours, the Dali Museum is dramatic yet airy, practical yet whimsical. And like the city it’s surrounded by, the museum is accessible, welcoming and brimming with charm. It is a space that sparks and stretches the imagination. An intellectual and artistic playground for the eccentric kid at heart.

Link: https://thedali.org/

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Anne Vranic

A culture, nature and new wave enthusiast, Anne Vranic is an award-winning PR pro and writer who moonlights as an actor. During the week, she can be found among dinosaurs at Toronto’s The Royal Ontario Museum. In her free time, she can be found cooking up crickets and binge-watching criterion classics in equal measure. Follow her on IG/ twitter: @annevranic