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Crown Cruise Vacations | August 11, 2020

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Explore Dali’s surreal dreams at unusual Florida museum

Explore Dali’s surreal dreams at unusual Florida museum
Jackie Sheckler Finch

The shifting landscape beneath me seems to be pulling me down into its clutches. Creatures with tall spindly spider legs and long elephant trunks gallop across the horizon.

Alice Cooper appears from nowhere. Wait – was that really the shock rocker? What is Alice Cooper doing in my dream?

Well, it is not actually my dream. My eyes are wide open, staring through an Oculus Rift headset to navigate through a trippy Virtual Reality experience called “Dreams of Dali” at The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

“Yes, that really was Alice Cooper,” said museum docent Elizabeth. “Salvador Dali and Alice Cooper were good friends.”

Why does that not surprise me.

Opened in 2011, the Dali Museum celebrates the life and work of the 20th century’s best-known surrealist artist. Born May 11, 1904, in Figueres, Spain, Dali was named after his parent’s first child who had died nine months before their second son was born. Dali said later in life that his parents had taken him to his older brothers grave when he was 5 years old and told him that he was his brother’s reincarnation.

No wonder the youngster seemed fixated with death, the macabre, strange visions and living life to the fullest.

Dali showed artistic talents from a young age and his parents supported that budding gift. However, after four years at the acclaimed San Fernando Academy of Art in Madrid, Dali was expelled because he refused to be judged in the theory of art. His examiners, Dali said, were not competent to judge him.

Perhaps he was right. Anyway, Dali set off on his own path.

Meeting his future wife and art collectors

In 1929, Dali met the woman who would become his wife. Gala was 10 years older than Dali and already married to another artist but the two developed a strong attraction. They married in 1934.

In the 1940s, Dali and Gala fled to America to escape World War II. Dali teamed up with Alfred Hitchcock to create dream-like sequences for the movie Spellbound. He then worked with Walt Disney on the film Destino.

A Cleveland, Ohio, couple – A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse – discovered Dali in 1943 shortly after they married. Over the years, the Morses became close friends with Dali and his wife and began collecting his work. The Morse collection became the largest outside of Dali’s native Spain. To share the collection with the world, the Morses opened The Dali Museum.

Gala died in 1982. Dali died of heart failure on Jan 23, 1989, in Figueres, Spain. He was 84 years old.

Today, the Dali Museum and its gardens are a worthy tribute to the man known for his flamboyant mustache and grotesque images of melting watches and spooky creatures. Even the building itself is a work of art with a large glass geodesic dome bulging out from its concrete sides. A helix spiral staircase inside the museum is a salute to Dali’s fascination with the DNA molecule.

Tour guides are an excellent way to learn more about the paintings. My tour guide Janese Davis told me to where to stand to see the double images and illusions that Dali painted in his works.

“Look closely,” Davis said, stopping before “The Hallucinogenic Toreador.”

“Do you see the toreador? Do you see the painting of Gala’s face in the upper left?” Davis asked. Truly, I thought the somber face in the upper left was supposed to be Jesus disapproving of bull fighting.

The Dali Museum has a small Café Gala with good snacks, an oversized and very popular gift shop specializing in Dali creations, and a garden that is well worth a visit. The garden contains many rocks and plants from Dali’s Spanish homeland, plus a Melting Watch bench to sit and enjoy the views.

Dali Inside and Outside

A large sculpture of Dali’s famed mustache in the garden is a popular photo stop. Look for a teeny bird sculpture wearing that same mustache. Uprooted in September 2017 Hurricane Irma, the “Wish Tree” has been righted and collecting wishes once again. Visitors are encouraged to write a hope their admission armbands and tie their wish to the fiscus tree.

As for that Virtual Reality experience, it was terrific. Added in 2016, the “Dreams of Dali” takes visitors inside Dali’s 1935 painting “Archeological Reminiscence of Millet’s ‘Angelus.” Using the Oculus Rift headsets, users can navigate the surreal three-dimensional environment that includes other Dali motifs like his lobster telephone, swarming ants and soaring birds.

A strange piano soundtrack is punctuated by bird cries, a barking dog and what sounds like someone talking.  It felt as though I were walking through a vast desert landscape with towering stone figures of a praying man and woman looking down on me. I see a little girl skipping rope, a skinny moon looming in the moody sky, two background figures of a man and a little boy meant to represent Dali and his father.

By moving my head and eyes, I seem able to walk around the towers, to peer in them and see what is around every corner. Somehow, I think this Virtual Reality is something Dali would have loved. It might be the closest we can ever come to getting a glimpse into the heaven/hell of what might have been Dali’s dreams.

Story and Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch