By Eleanor Berman
There are a handful of museums around the world whose buildings are as creative as the works inside. Add to the list the new Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. Architect Yann Weymouth won an international competition to design a building worthy of the surrealist master, and the result is a show-stopper, a dramatic, light-filled showcase for the largest collection of Dalí’s work outside of Spain.
Photos may show the most prominent features of the new Dali, swirling, gridded glass forms on the top and sides, but it is only inside that you can appreciate the full genius of the design. Inspired by the geodesic domes of Buckminster Fuller, who designed the artist’s own museum in Spain, the undulating windows, are made of more than 900 triangular-shaped glass panes, no two alike, infusing the interior with light and offering a uniquely surreal view of St. Petersburg’s waterfront.
The entry through a dim grotto-like space makes it even more striking to emerge into a light- flooded three-story atrium where a central staircase spirals upward. The stairs invite to the galleries, which are located on the third floor, safely above hurricane flood level.
The $36 million structure, the first designed explicitly for this collection, doubles the space of the original museum. It holds some 2140 pieces, including 96 oil paintings, eight of them master works measuring over five feet. One side of the third floor is devoted to Dali’s paintings, placed in a series of intimate spaces that allow for contemplation. Each of the big master paintings has a gallery to itself. The paintings trace the changes in Dali’s style over the years and include his famous melting watches. Galleries on the opposite side feature changing exhibits, as well as some of Dali’s surreal films and objects such as his iconic lobster telephone.
The museum’s “Avant-Garden” outside is also a playful wonder, with boulder outcroppings, eerie tropical plantings, a “golden rectangle” with multi-color paving and a labyrinth.
The museum is the latest jewel in a city enjoying a spirited revival after decades as a sleepy retirement refuge. The new Dali anchors one end of the expansive waterfront along Tampa Bay, a picturesque landscaped promenade filled with strollers and joggers from daybreak to moonrise. At the other end stands the Renaissance Vinoy Resort, a 1925 landmark whose $93 restoration was the start of the revival that continues throughout the city. Stay here if you can, and ask for a waterfront view.
More changes can be seen all along the waterfront. The Museum of Fine Arts, a fixture here since 1965, expanded in 2008 with an exciting modern wing, also designed by Yann Weymouth. Across the street from the promenade, Beach Drive has grown into a restaurant row with lively sidewalk cafes and cuisines of all kinds. Adding crowds to the scene is the Chihuly Collection, one of the few permanent exhibits of the work of the popular Northwest glass artist Dale Chihuly, which opened in July, 2010.
To be convinced that St. Pete has morphed into a young town, check out the lines waiting to get into rock concerts at the State Theatre on Central or Janus Live on Second Street and look at the many listings for live music in local papers like Creative Loafing, the area’s alternative weekly.
From Dali to downtown, this is definitely not your grandpa’s St. Pete.
For more info, visit the Dali Museum
Eleanor Berman, a New York freelance writer and award-winning author of a dozen travel guides, has covered 82 countries and all 7 continents. She has written for many national publications, including Travel & Leisure, Ladies’ Home Journal, Diversion, Robb Report, Boston Globe, Atlanta Constitution, Denver Post, Miami Herald, and the New York Daily News. Among her guide book awards are a Lowell Thomas award for Traveling Solo, Thomas Cook Book of the Year for Eyewitness Guide to New York, and Independent Publishers IPPY award, best guide of the year, for New York Neighborhoods.