Salvador Dali is well known for his completely bizarre, surrealist artwork. If you want to step into the eccentric mind of Dali himself, there is no better place to visit than the Dali Theatre and Museum which holds the largest collection of his major works. The museum can be found in the heart of Dali’s hometown, Figueres in Catalonia, Spain. The creation of the museum was Dali’s single largest project.
Dali was very passionate about how he wanted the museum to be perceived, saying “I want my museum to be a single block, a labyrinth, a great surrealist object. It will be a totally theatrical museum. The people who have come to see it will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream.” This is exactly how I felt after going to the museum as a young child, and when I visited for the second time recently, I experienced that same feeling once again.
It is not like your average art museum, it feels more like a theme park than a gallery. When you enter you find yourself in a courtyard enclosed by curved stone walls with gold figurines standing in the window ledges four stories high. However the first thing your eye is drawn to is the taxi in the centre. This is one of Dali’s three-dimensional artworks, known as “Rainy Taxi”. There are two mannequins inside the taxi and as the name suggests, when you put a euro in the slot, it rains inside the taxi. When I entered the courtyard, the sight of the taxi took me back 10 years ago when I had first witnessed this installation. The interactive element made this artwork particularly memorable to me and I remember being taken aback when it had rained inside the taxi the first time. I believe Dali’s ability to throw aside normality is what makes his work so unique.
Wandering through the maze of corridors and rooms, I came across a wide range of paintings, sculptures, jewellery and some things I could not even categorise. A classic painting that I feel represents, what I can only describe as the absurdity, of Dali’s work is his ‘Soft Self Portrait with Fried Bacon’. This utterly bizarre painting depicts Dali himself, sporting his famous moustache. There is a lot of mystery as to what message Dali was trying to put across by making his face look like it’s melting or sliding off, with crutches seeming to hold it up. He often used ants as a symbol of decay but the ones crawling around his eye socket seem to be attracted to food sources. It’s as if Dali is offering his skin to be eaten, just like the bacon in the painting. Some say this may be in reference to him opening himself up for the media to feed on. Dali’s paintings are notoriously puzzling and this is what makes them so engaging.
In one of the larger rooms in Dali’s labyrinth museum, I looked up to see a magnificent painting covering the whole ceiling. Known as the ‘Palace of the Wind’, this painting depicts Dali with his wife, and lifelong muse, Gala. Dali has used forced perspective to make it appear as though the painting continues high up, beyond the ceiling. I find this effect really impressive as you can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the illusion of its enormity.
My personal favourite of Dali’s artworks is “The Persistence of Memory”. Unfortunately this is not displayed in the museum as it has been in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City since 1934. It is one of Dali’s most recognisable works and is often called “Melting Clocks” or “The Soft Watches”. Dawn Ades, the British art historian and academic, wrote that the soft watches are an “unconscious symbol of the relativity of space and time”. However when asked if this were true, Dali denied it, saying the clocks were a surrealist perception of a Camembert melting in the sun. The strange human form in the centre of the painting, which appears to have one closed eye shown with eyelashes, suggests a dream state. Therefore the clocks could be representing the passing of time you experience in dreams, fluid and indefinite. I really like the originality of these clocks which has led them to become a kind if emblem of Dali’s work.
When walking out of the museum, I felt like I had been in a dream state myself. I had just experienced the unforgettable world of Dali, captured within the walls of his theatrical museum. It is unlike any other art museum I have been to. I found the museum’s unique and unforgettable design successfully mirrored Dali’s weird but wonderful artistic style.