St. Pete's Dalí Museum immerses visitors in Surrealist master's world

St. Petersburg, Florida (WABC) -- A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse had good taste in art.

They had really good taste - and really good timing.

On March 21, 1943, the Ohio couple purchased their first Salvador Dalí painting, "Daddy Longlegs of the Evening, Hope!" Then they bought another, and one after that. They would became important patrons of Dalí and would quickly befriend the Spanish Surrealist master, who was one of the most famous artists of the 20th century.

In time, their home became a de facto Dalí museum. When they wanted to share their collection with the world, they opened a small museum in their office complex in Beachwood, Ohio. But so many people found it that they outgrew the space.

In the 1970s, after offering to donate their collection to ensure it would stay together in perpetuity, the city of St. Petersburg, Florida campaigned to house it, and The Dalí Museum was born in 1982.

Today, the museum is in its second home there, a stunning Surrealist-inspired complex that complements the art it houses.

"The Dalí Museum has over 2,000 watercolors and drawings, hundreds and hundreds of graphics and sculptures. But the main part of our collection is the astounding oil paintings. There's a couple that we have here that are the most important pieces of his career that helped to really tell his story," said Peter Tush, the museums senior curator for education.

Among the paintings is "The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory," which with its melting clocks references one of Dalí's most famous works, 1931's "The Persistence of Memory."

"Twenty years later, he takes his original painting and he reconstructs it as a metaphor for the Atomic universe. It's one of our visitors' favorite features. And it's a great way to think about Dalí as an artist who's constantly in transition," Tush said.

The museum owns eight of Dalí's "masterworks," a term coined by A. Reynolds Morse for Dalí's very large paintings, and the museum has developed an augmented reality (AR) experience to allow visitors to enjoy them in an immersive manner using their smartphones. The feature calls up a 30-second video that animates the painting and recounts key aspects of Dalí's story.

Another AR experience lets you "walk inside" one of his paintings.

"It's absolutely amazing. It's a way that we keep developing our collection using technology to see in different ways," Tush said.

Dalí's work is housed in a museum that itself is a work of art. Designed by noted architect Yann Weymouth of HOK, the museum features a geodesic structure that's asymmetrical and would be right at home in Dalí's fantasy world.

"It seems to ooze out of the building very much like Dalí's paintings. Inside there is a very unique spiral staircase that was actually made in place, almost a sculpture. And it's a reference to Dalí's obsession with spirals," said Tush, who said Dalí was one of the first artists to be inspired by the structure of the DNA molecule.

"So there's a lot of spirals that show up in his paintings. And we've been able to pay tribute to that with the spiral staircase holding the whole building together, uniting it and bringing our guests up to the third floor where the collection is," Tush said.

The museum aims to create an experience that leaves visitors feeling rejuvenated, thinking about themselves and the world in a fresh way.

"Dalí definitely has that magic," Tush said.
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