Before my trip to Costa Brava in September, I had a baseline appreciation for Salvador Dali. I knew he was a gifted artist with an edgy sense of humor. I knew he liked to twist the perception between life and death. But I didn’t know how deep the river of his mind wound when it came to his ideas on the world. So on a recent blog trip hosted by the tourism board of Girona, I was dumbfounded and completely stumped. Dali was much more than a creative genius. He was a little boy trapped in an old man’s body. He was the son that refused to follow his father’s orders. He was the husband who stole another man’s wife. And he was the artist who hated paying taxes but promised his hometown of Figueres that he would “make it rain gold”. After this trip to the museum, I’ve added it to the list of memorable boutique museums, alongside the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona, Alfaro City Museum in Ecuador, and Sipan Museum in Peru.
Experiencing the Dali Museum
Don’t laugh when you see the strange brown nubs that decorate the tower and exterior walls of the museum. Everything about the museum comes with a helping of humor. So when you see the façade and think “Ew, that looks like poop!” …. First, know that they are meant to represeent bread rolls. But then again Dali could have designed them to be less grotesque.
Inside the main halls, highlights include his crypt as well as a pixilating portrait of his wife Gala looking out the window. When viewed through the camera lens, the large pixils morph into a picture of Abraham Lincoln.
Within the courtyard, I stopped in bewilderment and cocked a head at a massive “sculpture” of Bonnie and Clyde inside a car that rained and was tied to a large palm tree with a nautical themed trunk. Thick chains descended from the palm leaves and shackled a rotund woman (naked of course) to the hood of the car. Our guide laughed. The scene was bizarre but put quite simply, Dali wanted to discuss life through his marine themed tree and get-away car. She laughed, pointing at the vehicle and saying “See you have a car and a naval scene about life. So to Dali—“ she swept her hand from fender to tree. “Life is a car-na-vaal. Carnival!”
All that work for a quick gut laugh. But that’s Salvador.
With even more dark humor, Dali and his wife Gala also designed the central sala. At its most simple level, the rectangular room echoes the large parlors that Neil and I had seen in lavish European palaces where princes danced with court ladies. But Dali bent it to his own tastes.
Instead of frescoes depicting angels and cherubs skimming along the tradewinds under God’s bright sun, he went the other way. He had two large sets of feet, surrounded by bright blue clothes and golden rays. If the heavens are above, then humans would literally be looking up their skirts from Earth. To one corner, Dali and Gala’s autographs ride along in a dark rain cloud. From the sky, gold coins, wheels and other gilded objects fall over the sky into Figueres. In his own way, Dali was “making it rain gold”. Though a notorious tax evader, posthumously, he produced works that draw legions of ticket-buying visitors. And from their admission fees, Figueres will always reign in money.
Also, don’t miss the portrait of Gala with one bare breast, the portrait of Dali’s father, and the parlor paintings of melting clocks. Inside the treasury, there is the “Beating Heart” which was a ruby- and diamond- studded piece designed for Queen Elizabeth II of England. Glittering under the spotlight, the heart-shaped pendant actually beats, refracting crimson light back at the observer. The museum also hosts pieces from his art school days as well as 3D-esque paintings with hidden images of Gala inside.
When here, prepare for crowds during the summer season. Turn off your flash. And prepare to shake your head in disbelief as you walk through Dali’s world for a day.
How to Get to the Dali Museum
From the Barcelona Sants station, head to tracks 13 and 14. Before the turnstiles, use the ticket machines that say “Renfe” across the screens and buy your ticket for Figueres. This way, you will avoid a surcharge from the ticket counter. You will go the length of the line from Barcelona through Girona and into Figueres. (On your way back, Girona is worth a visit too.) Ask directions from the station to the museum. Tickets include general admission but pay an extra fee to see the treasury where Dali’s jewelry sketches became the inspiration for many precious pieces of decorative art.