Although I don’t pretend to understand the surreal images of distorted females and melting clocks that pervade the art of Salvador Dali, his work had always intrigued me. I simply assumed the symbolism was an unknowable product of a demented mind. So I was surprised when the docent at the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida commented, “Luckily, Dali spoke and wrote voluminously about the meaning of his artwork while he was alive, thus we understand what each piece is meant to represent.”
Fascinated, I followed the docent around the gallery as she related the history behind each piece and explained what the artist was trying to convey in his bizarre landscapes. With its 96 oils created between 1917-1970, the Salvador Dalí Museum is the permanent home of the world’s most comprehensive collection of the renowned Spanish artist’s work, including the Impressionist and Cubist styles of his early period, abstract work from his transition to Surrealism, the famous surrealist canvases for which he is best known, and examples of his preoccupation with religion and science during his classic period.
The tour ended at a sunken gallery where half a dozen of Dali’s largest canvases hung. At the suggestion of our guide, we stood above and looked down on these floor-to-ceiling pieces in order to have a wider view. This was a different Dali – one that I had never experienced. “Look closely – what do you see?” our guide asked, gesturing toward the oil titled, “Halucinogenic Toreador.”
I’d spotted the most obvious of the double images even before she asked, but was astonished when she began pointing out dozens of double images secreted throughout the painting. Almost everyone in the room could see the two male toreadors emerging from the two main Venus de Milo statues. Most could discern the Dalmatian dog hidden at the bottom of the painting and the head of the slain bull, with its pool of blood represented as a blue lagoon. But I had to get up close to see the smaller hidden images. The panting is littered with Venus de Milo statues and each one, no matter how tiny, contains the hidden image of a toreador’s face.
Quite pleased that I now had a better grasp of Dali’s life, work, and symbolism, I wandered back through the museum for one last look. Near the front entrance, the information panel next to one of Dali’s quintessential melting clock images quoted the artist: “…just because I don’t know the meaning of my art, does not mean it has no meaning….” Dali is probably laughing from his grave.
The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida is open 363 days each year, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; and from noon to 5:30 p.m. on Sunday. Each Thursday, the museum stays open until 8 p.m. for “Dali After Dark” and offers reduced admission of $5 after 5 p.m., which is a significant discount from the regular $17 admission.