Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dali Museum Revisited

Most people have been shown this picture at some point and asked what they see--a young girl or an old hag.  Try as I might, I can only see the young girl.  Last week at The Dali Museum in St. Pete, I went through a similar challenge while viewing Dali's "Hallucinogenic Toreador."  But first, a bit of background.

Maggie, my friend and bridge partner, came down from Rochester for a visit so that we could play some bridge in a tournament in Sarasota and do some exploring.  After a somewhat frustrating morning session, we decided to take the afternoon off and head up to The Dali Museum.  Both of us had been to the Museum before but felt that the collection was worth a second look.   

The first thing we discovered upon our arrival was a cool "Avant-Garden" area that I missed entirely on my first visit.   Maggie was a cooperative visitor, posing with a sculpture of Dali's signature moustache and other displays in the garden.  Then we were off into the Museum proper.  

We opted for a docent-led tour and it made the experience wholly different from my first visit when Louise and I wandered through on our own.  Docent wannabes study for six months and have to pass four tests before they graduate to interacting with the public, so you can imagine how extensive their knowledge is.  We learned that Dali's inclusion of grasshoppers in many of his paintings is a reference to when he was bullied as a child, with grasshoppers being put down his shirt and squished.  (Yuck!!!  That's enough to make anyone a bit twisted!)  We also learned that his wife, Gala, was a cougar both before and after their marriage, prowling for young men to provide some excitement.    Gala's prey included Manolete, a young Spanish matador who is featured in "Hallucinogenic Toreador."  

Frank, our docent, covered approximately 30 paintings during our one hour tour so we just got snippets of information about most of the works.  He spent a good bit of time, though, on three of Dali's 17 "masterworks" that are on display.  (In order to be considered a "masterwork," the painting has to measure at least five feet in each direction and have been worked on for over a year.)  After hearing about Gala's dislike of bullfighting (if not the bullfighters!) and how how the colors of the painting are references to the Spanish flag, our guide pointed out  the dying bull and the matador that are hidden in the painting.  I could see the bull immediately, but the matador eluded me.  (When Dali was creating the painting, it was on display in a gallery in New York with an illustration called "How to See the Toreador" that matted out the irrelevant areas. That would have been of great help because telling me that the green cape is his tie; the breast of the Venus de Milo is his nose; etc., etc. just wasn't getting me there.)  I eventually gave up and decided to leave it for another day.  We were lingering by the painting when a security guard approached us and asked if we could see the matador.  I confessed that I couldn't, and he made it his mission to help me see the hidden figure.  As we tried from different angles, I was getting a bit embarrassed and contemplating saying I could see it so that I could make my escape when the toreador suddenly became visible.  A loud "aha!" escaped from my lips.  Victory!!!  

Aktar (the guard) then led us back to a painting which we had previously viewed entitled, "Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea."  He asked us if we saw Lincoln in the painting.   Of course we did as there is a small painting of Lincoln's head in the lower left quadrant of the picture.   He asked Maggie to turn her back to the painting, hold up her sunglasses, and look into them.  From this angle, the entire painting becomes a portrait of Lincoln.  Astonishing!   We were equally astonished at how much Aktar knew about the painting and how much enjoyment he took at showing us the hidden aspects of Dali's work.  It turns out that he was a civil engineer and army major in Pakistan before he came to the United States and that he was the person at the Museum who discovered the trick of seeing Lincoln in the painting through the use of a convex surface.  (The Museum's management told him to mind his own business when he suggested that a convex mirror be installed for the benefit of museum-goers viewing the work.)

Our visit to the Museum was great fun, and we agreed that it is worthy of more visits in the future. With 80 docents on staff, there are a lot of different perspectives to hear about the collection.   After checking our watches, we realized it was time to head home to rest and rejuvenate for more adventures.   Another successful outing was in the books!

Postscript:  If you're interested in reading about my first visit to the Dali, just click on the "Art" heading of this blog and scroll down to the post from February 13, 2011.   As you'll see, it was like I visited a totally different museum!  

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