It takes two hours to get to Dalí’s hometown by train from Barcelona, less if you take a rental car across the Spanish countryside, and it’s worth the trip. Even in the city square and public spaces, relics of this great Surrealist peer round each corner. From his signature moustache to Dalí related puns, and even sculptures of golden loaves of bread or figures patched with holes, everything culminates around the the glass topped theatre accented with nearly every Dalínesque “cliché” imaginable.
Salvador Dalí was born in 1904 in Figueres, a small Catalan town north of Barcelona, close to the coast and the French border. Over 100 years later, Dalí has managed to transform his birthplace into a carefully curated pilgrimage site that is just “oh so Salvador”.
As the queues gather down the street, passing the very church the Surrealist master was baptised in, it felt more akin to queuing for a rock concert than a gallery. The Teatre-Museu Dalí, like the artist it’s dedicated to, is no ordinary homage. While most artists earn their museums posthumously, Dalí curated the concept of his very own artistic shrine.
“I want my museum to be a single block, a labyrinth, a great surrealist object. It will be totally theatrical museum. The people who come to see it will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream.”— Salvador Dalí.
The museum, aptly translating from the Catalan as the Theatre-Museum, is housed in the heart of the old town theatre that Dalí used to frequent since childhood. In fact, the old theatre was home to one of Dalí’s very first public exhibitions. After the theatre burned down during the Spanish Civil War, Dalí worked together with the Mayor of Figueres in the 1960s to rebuild the structure and to turn it into a museum dedicated to the artist.
Considering Dalí died in 1989 and the museum completed construction in 1974, this meant the surrealist had a first hand say in its construction and expansion.
While some may call it narcissism, I don’t think it’s out character for Dalí, who I feel curated his entire persona down to his look and even his diaries. For whatever the reason, I still think the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres is one of the most spectacular museums in the world. It’s not another art gallery with paintings and sculptures, but a living, breathing installation combining architecture, art and the human experience. In fact, its theatrical setting makes it the perfect medium in which to depict Dalí works.
The courtyard captures a chorus of stone faces imposed on the ivy-clad brick wall, primitive gold figurines all worshiping a Venus meets Athena-like figure standing on top of a vintage car, yet beneath a floating boat. Behind a sheet of glass, the stage presents a mural under the glass dome. The giant canvas captures the spirit of Dalí’s museum, depicting a man’s torso morphed into a gateway.
“It’s obvious that other worlds exist, that’s certain; but, as I’ve already said in many other occasions, these other worlds are inside ours, they reside on earth and are precisely at the centre of the dome of the Dalí Museum, which contains the new, unsuspected and hallucinatory world of Surrealism.” – Salvador Dalí
The museum captures a spectrum of Dalí’s work, some chronological with his early work and surrealism and even his passion for nuclear physics towards the end of his life.
From the collection of his water colours inspired by Danté’s Inferno to the room furnished in the style of Mae West’s face, this museum certainly captured Dalí unique spirit.
But it’s perhaps deep down in bowels of the museum, at Dalí’s crypt, where the artist’s morbid and surrealist plans for this museum come to fruition. Whether it was his initial plan to build the museum as a living and breathing mausoleum or not, the entire structure provides the perfect memorial to the artist.
From the red walls topped with eggs, a frequent symbol in Dalí’s work, to theatrics, the Dalí Museum in Figueres is worth any visit for any lover of art. Even if Dalí is not your thing, you won’t be able to help feeling lost in the awe of his extravagant mausoleum and creation.