Dali's Fascinating Self-built World in Spain

ArtSmart Travels/ Dali in Spain by Barbara Rizza Mellin

Figueres, Spain is less than a two hour’s train ride from Barcelona, but in some ways it’s like visiting another planet. The town itself is a relatively small Catalan village, but as the birthplace of Spanish Surrealist artist Salvador Dali (1904-1989), it attracts countless tourist each year.

My husband, Bruce, and I had planned to take a bus tour to Figueres as a one-day excursion from Barcelona, but the under-subscribed trip was canceled. Since viewing Dali’s truly unique museum was one of the main reasons for this visit, we were not to be dissuaded. A quick taxi ride from the hotel landed us at the train depot, and we were soon back on schedule. As we journeyed to Figueres, I thought of the two faces associated with Dali: his own playful, not-to-be-taken-seriously visage with curled handlebar mustache and elfish grin, and the limp clock faces that seem to melt before us in his famous painting, The Persistence of Memory at MOMA (the Museum of Modern Art)  in New York City.         

Dali’s self-designed museum, The Teatre-Museu Dali, complete with giant “eggs” on its roof and “loaves of bread” on the walls, is only about a 15-minute walk from the train station, but the line, which meandered around the building, down narrow medieval streets and into an open plaza, took almost two hours before reaching the entrance. Our long wait turned out to be one of our fondest memories. In a couple of hours, you get to know the people around you, such as the French parents who were traveling with their two children and the young couple from Australia backpacking through Spain. Bruce and I occasionally left the line (one of us held our space) to buy an ice cream or explore shops along the way. The Dali-catessen, for example, was a great place to pick up one-of- kind souvenirs, such as a T-shirt with three clocks posting New York time, Tokyo Time and Figuere’s Time, the last featuring Dali’s famous “melting” clock face.

            The museum itself is built on the site of a war-ruined 19th century municipal theater, the location of Dali’s first exhibition. The artist spent the last part of his life designing the museum  to be a work of art in its own right. In addition to a collection of 4,000 object, 1500 of which are on display, the museum now also houses the artist’s tomb. When you finally approach the building, you find mannequin-like statues on the roof holding bread baguettes and a large female sculpture standing atop a big, black Cadillac in the courtyard. 

Stepping inside the museum is like walking into Alice’s wonderland, where nothing is as it seems. Dali’s creations are displayed in a maze-like configuration of rooms and corridors. You can view a multi-story image of colored squares ostensibly showing the title image, Gala [Dali’s wife] Nude Looking at the Sea. But, when viewed through binoculars, that painting coalesces into a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. You can also view a classical-style statue with working pull-drawers in her body. And you’ll see optical illusions, installations, jewelry, and surreal films.  The highlight of the museum visit for me was a room with a red sofa in its center, a fireplace between two paintings on a back wall, and a drapery-bordered doorway. When you ascend the stairs at the edge of the space and look through a lens, the whole room magically morphs into the face of Mae West with her golden hair framing her portrait.

            More than an art museum, The Teatre-Museu Dali is an experience.  Dali himself said, “It’s obvious other worlds exist. . . these other worlds are inside ours. They reside in the earth and precisely at the centre of the dome of the Dalí Museum, which contains the new, unsuspected and hallucinatory world of Surrealism.”

And to think, this world is less than two hours from Barcelona.


(Across the room, it looks like Lincoln; up close there is a nude with her back to us.)
Photos by Bruce A Mellin





(photos by Bruce A Mellin)

The Art and Writing of Barbara Rizza Mellin