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An architectural tour around the $36 million Salvador Dalí Museum

The new museum dedicated to the artist in St. Petersburg, Florida, makes for an immersive visitor experience
Yann Weymouth, Salvador Dali Museum (2011)


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Get up close and personal with the master of Surrealism at the new $36 million Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. Opened in January of this year and designed by Yann Weymouth, who helped create the Louvre's famous glass pyramid along with I.M. Pei, the fantastical, kaleidoscopic structure houses the largest collection of Dalí’s work outside of his native Spain. More than 2,000 pieces - including 96 paintings, early self-portraits, graphics, sculptures, and larger-than-life canvases - collected by the artist’s friends, Eleanor and A. Reynolds Morse, provide a comprehensive portrait of the iconic artist and the influences that profoundly shaped his world view.

Weymouth designed the splashy new museum - which more than doubles the exhibition space of the original 1980s-era museum it replaces - to mirror the abstract-yet-precise quality of Dalí’s work. Buffered against the elements by a warped geodesic wave comprised of more than 1,000 glass triangles (Weymouth calls it the “glass enigma”), the main structure is a squat concrete trapezoid with 18-inch walls that can withstand a Category 5 hurricane (a major consideration when designing a new building to better protect the collection, which is now situated at Tampa Bay).

Inside, a spiraling helical staircase of solid concrete - no mean feat to construct - seems to float visitors from the lobby to the museum’s upper floors, its shape a homage to Dalí’s lifelong obsession with the structure of DNA. Natural light filters in through the glass panels overhead, lending a feel of drama to the space. The airiness and increased room accorded to the collection does it good; visitors can now see many more pieces on exhibition, and facets of Dalí’s most famous works, including the melting clocks of The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory (1952-54), can be examined in greater detail (specially designed salons showcase each of the master works).

The in-house Café Gala - named after Dalí’s wife - features Spanish cuisine; outside, an “avant-garden” includes a misty grotto, a box-hedge labyrinth, and a patio lined with stone pavers laid out in the proportions of the golden rectangle. Rocks anchoring the garden reference the rock formations of Dalí’s native Cadaqués, which show up time and time again in the artist’s dreamscape paintings. The carefully thought-out additions make a visitor experience to “Dalí World” an immersive one.


Bonnie Tsui lives in San Francisco. She is a regular contributor to The New York Times and the author of American Chinatown.



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