Ten years ago today, the Salvador Dali Museum opened its doors on the St. Petersburg bayfront, on the site of the old Bayfront Center Arena, which had outlived its usefulness and met the wrecker’s ball in 2004.
At a ceremony Monday morning, director Hank Hine told an invited audience of donors, dignitaries and media that 3,000,000 people had visited the museum over the past decade.
Getting the $35 million facility out of the planning stages, up and running, Hine said, wasn’t always easy. “At one difficult point, he explained, “one of our trustees said ‘Sometimes you just have to hold your nose and jump in the pool.’”
It was not the first location for the art museum dedicated to the works of the 20th century surrealist. St. Pete’s first Dali Museum was a converted marine warehouse on 3rd Street South. Then, as now, the museum rose – with financial support from the City of St. Petersburg and the State of Florida – as a place to house the extended Dali collection of Ohio art lovers A. Reynolds Morse and his wife.
It began modestly, with 96 oil paintings, 200 drawings and watercolors and more than 1,000 graphics and sculptures by the prolific Spanish artist.
Today, the Dali Museum is the top tourist draw in the city, with a worldwide reputation. It contains more than 2,400 works from every moment and in every medium of his artistic activity, with rotating temporary exhibitions spotlighting works from other masters.
The old warehouse, besides being simply too small (and too normal-looking for Dali’s reality-bending creativity), was not adequately equipped to deal with hurricane-force winds. And that’s why the city commissioned architect Yann Weymouth to design the “new” Dali Museum: a deceptively simple three-story building with 18-inch thick hurricane-proof walls, out of which erupts a large free-form geodesic glass bubble known as “The Enigma.” Inside is a towering spiral staircase.
Like Dali’s work itself, the building defies most conventions, and is itself a work of art.
Mayor Rick Kriseman was among those singing the museum’s praises at the outdoor ceremony. “I want to be clear,” he said, “I believe the arts in this city, and particularly the Dali, have played a key role in creating the economic successes that we are experiencing here in St. Petersburg.”