The Hallucinogenic Toreador, 1969-70
The Hallucinogenic Toreador, 1969-70
© Salvador Dalí. Fundación Gala-Salvador Dalí, (Artist Rights Society), 2015 / Collection of the Salvador Dalí Museum, Inc., St. Petersburg, FL

Get Your Mind Bent at St. Pete's Salvador Dali Museum

As the stifling heat of summer finally begins to break and our extended daylight hours diminish, most of us have already been forced to admit what the impending onslaught of Starbucks #PSLs and flamboyant grocery store Halloween displays will shortly set in stone: Summer is over. It's time to get back to reality.

But who says we have to?

Just a few hours' drive across our great state, in a land where the sun shines in virtual perpetuity (St. Petersburg holds the Guinness World Record for logging the most consecutive sunny days — 768), there is a place where time melts away, psychedelic images ooze from the walls, and visitors are invited to get lost in the brilliant and bizarre labyrinth that was Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dalí's genius.

Housed within a building whose monolithic façade and intersecting, amorphous glass geodesic structure is a striking but welcome interruption along the Tampa Bay waterfront of downtown St. Petersburg, the Salvador Dalí Museum boasts the world's second-largest collection of the famous artist's works outside of Spain.

The permanent collection, which contains 96 oil paintings (seven of Dalí's 18 "masterworks"); more than 100 watercolors and drawings; a plethora of graphics, photographs, sculptures, and objets d'art; and an extensive archival library, belonged to A. Reynolds Morse and Eleanor R. Morse. The Cleveland, Ohio, couple were first intrigued by Dalí's mind-bending paintings in the early 1940s and became close friends and lifelong patrons of the artist.

The Dalí Museum's latest hurricane-proof incarnation, designed by veteran architect Yann Weymouth of the firm HOK at the old site of the Bayfront Center, opened in 2011 and has since become an iconic and award-winning cultural landmark on Florida's west coast.

Your summer travels may just be a distant memory now, but if you're already finding yourself in need of a break from reality, a quick visit to the Dalí Museum might just be the perfect escape. We caught up with Kathy Grief, marketing director at the Dalí, to fill us in on upcoming exhibits, little-known museum history, and the best places to eat and drink while you're in town.

What's new at the museum?

We have a new special, "Escher at the Dalí," which runs through January 3, 2016. The 135 works in this show consist of rarely exhibited early drawings of family members, panoramic drawings of exotic landscapes and historic architecture of Italy and Spain, original preparatory sketches and mezzotints, and more.

Immediately following the Escher show, in late January 2016, we will present "Disney and Dalí: Architects of the Imagination." This immersive and enriching multimedia exhibition tells the story of the unlikely friendship and collaboration between two of the most creative minds of the 20th Century: brilliantly eccentric Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí and American entertainment innovator Walt Disney.

How are the rotating exhibits determined?

We average about two major special exhibitions a year. Some take as long as ten years to concept and pull together — like the Picasso/Dalí, Dalí/Picasso show we had last winter. Whom we partner with and what we choose to display is a collaborative effort between our curatorial staff and our executive director, Dr. Hank Hine — it may be a vision we have, or we may be approached about an opportunity. The wonderful thing about the Dalí is that Salvador Dalí was so multifaceted, we're able to dive into a lot of different areas that still have connections back to his legacy.

What's the best way for visitors to experience the works? Headsets, guided tours?

We offer a variety of ways for guests to create their own experience at the Dalí. Many visitors enjoy our complimentary headsets and free public docent tours, which provide immersive experiences and really augment the learning aspects, but certainly some guests prefer to peruse the collection and exhibits on their own.

Have you noticed any trends among visitors in recent years? Is there more or less interest in the work now than in previous years? Does it resonate differently now or for different types of people?

I wouldn't say I've noticed trends among visitors in regard to certain works — there are always the usual suspects in terms of favorites. Of course, real aficionados might have more niche interests, but we do know that many of our visitors come in with what I'd call an intrigue or curiosity about Dalí, and they leave a lifelong fan. His talent was immense, and it leaves most in awe and inspired.

Anything surprising about the museum, its history, or Dalí that most visitors might not know about?

A lot of people are curious about the history of this incredible collection. The story starts in 1942: The Morses, our founders, visited a traveling Dalí retrospective at the Cleveland Museum of Art and became fascinated with the artist's work.

On March 21, 1943, the Morses bought their first Dalí painting — Daddy Longlegs of the Evening, Hope! (1940) — which now hangs at the entrance to our permanent collection. This was the first of many acquisitions, which would culminate 40 years later in the preeminent collection of Dalí's work in America. On April 13, 1943, the Morses met Salvador Dalí and his wife, Gala, in New York, initiating a long, rich friendship and regularly visiting the Dalís' villa in Port Lligat, Spain.

After displaying the collection in Ohio, they were looking for a more permanent home, and after a story ran in the Wall Street Journal, a group of committed St. Petersburg residents rallied to find a space here, and the museum officially opened in 1982. The distinguished new building opened on January 11, 2011.

Favorite work(s) in the museum?

I have more than one favorite, but if I had to pick one, I suppose it's Girl's Back (1926). It's an early work and to me just shows what an incredible painter Dalí was — the detail is just out of this world. So many people think of Dalí as being associated with surrealism, whereas Girl's Back is so detailed and expert, so "real."

Favorite/quirkiest item in the gift shop?

Oh, the jewelry for sure. One of the most popular items happens to be my favorite — the "Eye of Time Brooch." It's soooo Dalí!

What are some of your picks for best places to eat and drink downtown, in walking distance?

Downtown St. Pete has a burgeoning arts, beer, and culinary scene — we are so lucky to be located right in the heart of this thriving city. Visitors can sample delicious Spanish-style tapas right here at the Museum's Café Gala (you don't need a ticket to enjoy the café).

Beach Drive is home to several wonderful restaurants and bars — Cassis (a French bistro) is one of my faves; Bella Brava is amazing Italian; Moon Under Water is an English pub. The list is long, and each has great attributes, not to mention all the establishments on Central Avenue. And I'd be crazy not to include the Sundial, a gorgeously renovated central spot with tons of restaurants, including Sea Salt and Locale, an incredible market and restaurant.

I'm a craft-beer junky, and there are probably ten or more breweries within a couple of miles: 3 Daughters, Green Bench, St. Pete Brewing, to name a few. I'm a Tampa resident, and I work in St. Pete — I get the absolute best of both worlds. I just love it here!

Salvador Dalí Museum
1 Dali Blvd., St. Petersburg. Open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Admission costs $24. Call 727-823-3767, or visit thedali.org.

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