The concrete Florida building may not stand out as a surreal playground, but geodesic glass and a melted watch draped over a twisted bench are sure signs of a museum housing the largest Salvador Dali collection outside his native Spain. Since moving to sprawling new digs in St. Petersburg, Florida in January, the Dali Museum has been pitching the artist’s fantastical images and objects to tourists more focused on the Sunshine State’s theme parks and aquariums than on art.
It seems to be working. Since the new facility opened nine months ago, some 213,000 people have ventured through its doors — a 50-percent increase in traffic. “It’s quite positive for us,” museum deputy director Kathy White told us.
“We know a lot of people come to this area for the beaches and theme parks, but this is another option for tourists, with organized activities for children and the community,” she added.
The museum includes 96 oil paintings and some 2,000 objects from Dali’s career as the 20th century art world’s resident eccentric.
While a prominent characteristic of the $36 million structure is its ability to withstand the punishing hurricanes that frequently batter the Florida coast, the architecture incorporates elements of the weird and wonderful that marked Dali’s work.
Designed by architect Yann Weymouth, who helped I.M. Pei create the famed glass pyramid of the Louvre in Paris, the museum features a pair of geodesic glass bulges protruding from the building.
The “Glass Enigma,” as it’s called, is comprised of about 1,000 glass triangles that allow visitors a panoramic view of Tampa Bay, reminiscent of Dali’s retreat in Cadaques, perched above the Mediterranean Sea.
To help recreate the feel of the Spanish Catalonian village where Dali spent many summers, the museum’s garden features Mediterranean-style rock formations and a hedge labyrinth.
Inside is a playful spiraling staircase to nowhere, a tribute to Dali’s fascination with the double helix structure of DNA.
The museum has a stunningly comprehensive array of Dali artwork, from self-portraits and still-life drawings to sculptures and his larger paintings — all in a seaside resort known more for the white-sand beaches nearby.