New Florida museum has largest Dali collection outside Spain

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida Wed Jan 12, 2011 6:17am EST

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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (Reuters) - Some of Salvador Dali's most famous paintings have a new home in Florida with the opening of a $36 million museum designed to reflect the Spanish painter's surreal style.

The Dali museum was officially opened on Tuesday in St. Petersburg with Cristina, Duchess of Palma de Mallorca and the daughter of Spain's King and Queen, cutting the ribbon.

"It's a great day for the world of art," Jorge Dezcallar, Spain's ambassador to the United States, said at the ceremony.

The new building houses the largest collection of Dali's work outside of Spain with 96 oil paintings and over 2,000 other pieces of his art. It is twice the size of the old museum, a converted warehouse, which opened in 1982.

Among the prominent paintings in the collection are "The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory", "The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus", "Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea ... Portrait of Abraham Lincoln", Daddy Long Legs of the Evening -- Hope", "Eggs on the Plate Without the Plate" and "Portrait of My Dead Brother".

"Works from every period of Dali's career are represented, from his paintings to his works on paper, objects and films. It's a collection that can never be reassembled," Director Hank Hine said in the museum guide.

The paintings and other pieces of art were collected by A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse of Cleveland, Ohio beginning in 1942. In 1980, the couple were looking for a location for a museum to house all their collection in one place and the city of St. Petersburg agreed to provide one on its waterfront. The museum opened two years later. Reynolds Morse died in 2000 and his wife died last July.

Museum officials had been trying for several years to get a bigger building which would protect the paintings against hurricanes, and ground was finally broken in 2008 eight blocks from the previous location. Money for the museum came from private donations and federal, state and local governments.

Architect Yann Weymouth of the HOK firm said the building had to be made strong enough with 18-inch-thick concrete walls to withstand hurricanes with winds of 165 miles per hour and still be welcoming to visitors.

"I think Dali would like this," Weymouth said in an interview. "There's a certain amount of playfulness. There's nothing like this anywhere in the world."

The most prominent feature of the building is a 75-foot-high geodesic dome on the front of the museum called "The Glass Enigma" made up of 1,062 triangular glass panels, none of which are the same. The Enigma allows natural light into the building while providing a sweeping view of Tampa Bay for those inside. It is similar to the dome on the Dali museum in Figueres, Spain which was designed by Buckminster Fuller.

Inside the museum, a 60-foot-high spiral staircase in the shape of a DNA helix connects the first and third floors in recognition of Dali's love of spirals and interest in science.

Visitors enter the museum through the Avant-Garden. It features a grotto, a large labyrinth and a patio with stones in the shape of a rectangle whose sides have a ratio of 1:1.609 or phi. The grounds include a 4,500 pound rock given to the museum by the village of Cadaques, Spain where Dali, who died in 1989, grew up.

The increased size of the museum will allow all 96 of Dali's paintings in the collection to be on display for the first time in the third floor galleries. There is also room for special exhibits.

The museum also has a library, theater, gift shop, meeting rooms and the Gala Cafe, named for Dali's wife.

Hine is hoping the new building and Dali's popularity will make the museum one of the most visited in the United States. It can accommodate 4,000 to 5,000 visitors a day.

"Dali is the best known artist of the last century. We welcome the world here," he said.

The Dali Museum is the latest effort by civic leaders to make the area a national arts center. Last year, a collection of works by glass blower Dale Chihuly opened in St. Petersburg and the separate art museums in St. Petersburg and Tampa have both opened new buildings within the past three years.

The Dali museum's website is www.thedali.org.

(Editing by Greg McCune)

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