Reflections at the Dalí Museum

One of my favorite, if not my favorite, artists is the twentieth-century surrealist Salvador Dalí. It might come as a shock to some of you that I’ve been such a big fan of his work for so long given that his paintings (and surrealist pieces like his famous lobster-phone) can often strike the more traditional eye as bizarre. Yet, I have always been attracted to the modern end of the artistic continuum, and Dalí, like Anselm Kiefer and others of a more, shall we say “startling” style, particularly capture my attention. I get to travel often and one of the things I enjoy most while on the road is, when time allows, visiting museums, especially institutions that have galleries of modern art. Two of my favorites include the Tate Modern in London and the Art Institute of Chicago (although it’s hard not to also include MoMA and a few other standards too). I have had the opportunity to see many Dalí pieces over the years at several institutions, but I had not had the chance to see so many in one place as I had yesterday while visiting the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. One of my biggest regrets to date is the fact that I once was in Philadelphia during the highly acclaimed “Dalí Exhibition” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but was not able to make it to the show back in 2005.

I am in town for what is called in my province SPUFY (solemnly professed under five years). All of us full members of the province who have been in solemn vows for under five years gather once or twice a year to have discussions, spend time sharing our experiences of life and ministry and support one another in our work and community. We meet at our friary in St. Petersburg, which is not far from the water and is just a few blocks, a five-minute walk, from the Dalí Museum (affectionately referred to as just “The Dalí”).

Yesterday, after our meetings and lunch, we had some time to ourselves and so I took the chance to go down the street and was overjoyed by the chance (if also overwhelmed by the crowds) to spend a couple hours with a very extensive Dalí collection (apart from the museum in Spain that Dalí himself helped set up, the St. Petersburg museum is the most extensive permanent collection) and a wonderfully beautiful location.

There are several of Dalí’s famous (and quite large) ‘masterworks,’ including the “Hallucinogenic Toreador” (not one of my personal favorites, but one I nevertheless appreciate) and “The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus” (one I do really like), as well as a nice collection of his early and pre-surrealist work.

I think of the many paintings in this collection that I like (and I like A LOT of them), “The Ecumenical Council” is perhaps my favorites, certainly of the large masterworks (it’s the image above). One cannot really appreciate the detail of the image without standing before the gigantic 118 x 100 in canvas. I think, among the many features to admire in this painting, I am drawn in by Dalí’s depiction of the Trinity and the way the Trinity is engaging with both the Church below, in which Pope John XXIII is being made pope, and the viewer of the piece. While I’m not the biggest fan of the dove-depictin of the Spirit, I am still fascinated by the interplay among the Persons of the Trinity. Particularly “God the Father,” who, upon some even brief examination, while nude, does not display a particular gender’s sexual organs, suggesting a more universal approachability. Likewise, the face of the Father is obscured by an outstretched hand.

My favorite Dalí piece, if I were to limit such a selection to one, remains “The Sacrament of the Last Supper,” which is in the permanent collection in Washington, DC at the National Gallery of Art. I have hung a very large framed poster of that piece above my bed for years, and it never gets old. I also, of course, like the various crucifixion paintings of Dalí, if I were to stay on the religious themes of the artist. Who doesn’t like “Christ of St. John of the Cross” or the “Corpus Hypercubus“? His less-religious (although a case can be made for religious signification or interpretation of many more less-overtly religious pieces) work is also appealing to me, even when it might be off-putting to others.

That I had the chance to see this work during such a difficult week, while mourning the loss of my grandmother in anticipation of her wake and funeral at the end of the week, was a welcomed opportunity for which I am very grateful. I was able to take some quiet time amid beautiful art that I’ve come to appreciate more and more over the years at a time when I really needed it. On that note, thank you to all who have offered your condolences, prayers and thoughts.

Image: The Dalí Museum

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