Janet Ramin - Slithering across the humid, subtropical landscape like the pocket watches in Persistence of Memory, the Dali Museum recently opened its new building in St. Petersburg, Florida. The surreal architecture boasts of a glass geodesic structure flowing freely in and out of a box building. Architect Yann Weymouth of HOK Architects who conceived the design was inspired by the organic dreamlike paintings of Salvador Dali.
Dali was born in Catalonia, Spain in 1904, studied at the Academy in Madrid, and eventually moved to Paris where he met Picasso and artists of the surrealist art movement. Influenced by these artists, Dali began to move away from his more rigid art training and develop his own expressive technique. In the 1920s, surrealism was a cultural movement affecting art, poetry, literature, film, and philosophy that dealt with what was beneath the façade of man, the unconscious and dreams. In his most famous work, Persistence of Memory, where watches melted into the landscape, Dali believed that time was not fixed and instead relative. Dali often painted dreamlike landscapes rife with religious, sexual, and scientific symbols. He became fascinated with geometric forms such as the cube and the spiral DNA form.
Fittingly, architect Weymouth created a spectacular staircase arising in a twisting helix-DNA form, dominating the museum’s interior. The structure is opened up by the glass geodesic panels and provides great viewing of the St. Petersburg waterfront. No two glass panels are identical, creating dramatic backdrops as seen in the museum café below. It is a difficult mission for any architect to marry the rigid dictates of museum needs for straight walls with the more fluid, amorphous aesthetic of Salvador Dali yet Yann Weymouth did just that with the new museum. He took the geodesic sphere, made famous byBuckminster Fuller, and exploded it to this melting shape and still provided the straight walls needed to hang paintings.
The museum’s paintings were part of a collection started in 1943 by Eleanor Reese Morse and her husband A. Reynolds Morse. The couple saw a Dali retrospective and was entranced by his work. Consequently, A. Reynolds Morse bought the painting Daddy Longlegs of the Evening, Hope! for his new wife. Over the next 40 years, the Morses would amass a significant collection that eventually needed its own building. They built a museum for it in Beachwood, Ohio in 1971 and then by 1982, moved the collection to a bigger building in St. Petersburg, Florida. The collection expanded and outgrew its space again. Eventually HOK Architects were hired to design a new museum which opened this past January.
The Dali Museum owns many of Dali’s masterpieces, including The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus and theDisintegration of the Persistence of Memory, part of the collection of 96 oil paintings. The rest of Dali’s oeuvre resides at his museum in Figueres, Spain, the Teatre-Museu Dali.
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