I can remember the first time I saw a Salvador Dalí painting – I was in 7th grade art class and we were studying the “melting clocks” more formally known as The Persistence of Memory. I remember thinking it was a bit strange and a bit foreign, totally unlike my beloved impressionism. However, it was also new, different, and interesting. I won’t say I fully “get” surrealism (even today), but after visiting the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, Spain I have a much better appreciation. This is a museum I can honestly say should not be missed.
I think Dalí explains the museum best: “The Dalí Theatre-Museum, the largest surrealist object in the world, occupies the building of the former Municipal Theatre, a XIX century construction which was destroyed at the end of the Spanish Civil War. On its ruins Salvador Dalí decided to create his museum. ‘Where, if not were in my own city, should the most extravagant and solid examples of my art remain, where else?’ The Municipal Theatre, or what was left of it, seemed to me to be very appropriate for three reasons: first, because I am an eminently theatrical painter: second, because The Theatre is in front of the church where I was baptized and third, because it was precisely in the lobby of the Theatre that I had my first exhibition of paintings.”
With that being said – this is one of the most interesting and thought-provoking museums I’ve ever visited. And if ever I thought an audioguide would be beneficial it’s here (unfortunately there was not one…probably because it’d be a little too conventional). The main museum is made up of 22 rooms and the map is set to guide you through the museum not in any order, but to ensure you don’t miss anything along the way.
The two bottom photos above are the outside of the Theatre-Museum (on the ticket entry side/lobby). After purchasing our tickets, we made our way into the lobby, which served as Room 1 and the Courtyard (remaining four photos above) served as Room 2. What I wish we’d known before visiting concerns how many pieces of art would require coins to operate. In the courtyard there is a large car. If you insert a 1 Euro coin, it’ll start raining on the driver, two passengers, and plants inside. We didn’t have any change, but the kids in the photo did! This courtyard definitely sets the stage for the rest of the museum. You can see the stage (Room 3) as well as numerous windows with peaks of other artworks as you twirl around.
Below are photos from Room 3 as well as the cupola (dome). Again, you’ll see another coin operated installation. My favorite piece; however, was the Abraham Lincoln painting. At first I stood not far from the Lincoln painting and thought – that’s interesting. Then I moved to the other side of the room and said, “That’s Abraham Lincoln!” Jim’s response was, “Yes – there’s a photo of Lincoln in it, too.” Not surprisingly, I’ve never been very good at the magic eye pictures. Again, you’ll notice how you can see little elements from other rooms while in this room. There are so many perspectives and ways to see the art differently – it’s remarkable.
From there we entered into Room 4 – The Treasure Room. As soon as we entered this red room I wondered if it was somewhat of an inspiration for David Lynch’s Black Lodge in Twin Peaks. This was also the start of something else I’d never seen in a museum – incredibly dark rooms with dim lighting and/or zero ceiling lights…and I loved it. It really works with the strangeness of his pieces.
Dalí is also buried here (his tomb, below) is in the Crypt in Room 7, below the stage (Room 3).
Probably one of the coolest rooms is the Mae West Room (below). As you enter you see the lips, nose, etc on the floor, but after walking up stairs behind it and looking through the wig you see Mae West’s face. It’s slightly different from the painting I had seen before, but equally as cool. It’s a nice change of pace to experience/enjoy 3D art.
The museum is also full of paintings Dalí completed of his wife, Gala. After our visit we did a little research and came to find out she was a bit older than Dalí and was married when they met (I believe to a surrealist poet). The accounts we read said they had an open marriage and even suggested Dalí may have been asexual (interesting when you look at a collection of his work). Regardless, she was his muse (and she donated much of the work in the museum) and pieces featuring her are plentiful. Three of my favorites are below. The first one (top left) is Dalí painting himself painting her back and capturing their faces/fronts in a mirror. The second is a series of orbs (it looks so cool), and the third was an example of his stereoscopic work or painting in 3D. This one was the only one I could see the way it was intended (I think Jim saw all of them).
Not far from the circle Gala painting was a statue of Diego Velázquez (I didn’t get a photo of that) of Las Meninas fame. This was the second time in two days we had seen a Spanish painter pay tribute to Velázquez (Picasso was the other). It’s said Dalí’s mustache is a tribute to Velázquez. After we left the museum this prompted us to do some deep dive research on Velázquez and led us to determine we need to travel to Madrid to visit the Prado.
The below painting is one of a few of its kind in the museum (another magic eye kinda thing). It begins as 50 abstract paintings, but if you move two meters away it changes into three Lenins disguised as Chinese and if you move six meters away it changes into the head of a tiger. This is one of those things I find fascinating.
Additionally, this is also where you start to see more photos of Dalí himself. In fact, there’s apparently a book all about Dalí’s mustache in the gift shop (we didn’t buy it). Jim’s favorite was the mustache split in two on each side like cat or mouse whiskers. These photos seem to explain so much about the spirit of Dalí, though we later found out he was incredibly eccentric (he owned an ocelot and an anteater) and also a bit tragic. This was a man who believed he was the reincarnation of his deceased brother, harbored a potentially unrequited relationship with Garcia Lorca, lived through the Spanish Civil War (and its aftermath), and later in life embraced Franco. It’s not a wonder surrealism was such a powerful movement.
When we finished the tour of the museum we also had tickets to tour the Dalí jewels. This was, possibly, the biggest surprise as I had NO idea Dalí designed jewelry. This was a two story building with incredibly low lighting (only the pieces had uplighting and the staircase), which made them all stand out and feel extra regal and special. You can’t tell from the photos, but many of the jewels also had a mechanical aspect. For example, the heart (above, bottom left) beats. My favorite, though, was the mouth with pearl teeth…maybe because it reminds me of The Rolling Stones.
In sum, this is the most thought-provoking museum visit I’ve ever had. We were only there for a couple of hours, but by the end we had so many questions and were eager to dive deeper to understand Dalí the man, the Spanish Civil War, as well as Franco’s rise to power and rule over Spain. I can’t think of a better purpose of a museum than to encourage continued learning. I hope we’ll be able to visit his studio & castle one day.