They shuffle along, unaware of the people around them. Deaf to conversation and “excuse me’s”. Bobbing and weaving to squeeze their way past their brethren to get a better view. All with the same singular focus.
The audio tour.
We made a detour through St. Petersburg for a visit to the Dali Museum as part of my birthday adventures into Florida. I’ve dabbled in art history here and there, but I consider myself only slightly more than a casual fan of art museums but the BFF studied art history in college and is therefore ALL about it. This also fell into the #32like12 agenda I had set for my birthday road trip of doing things that I would have loved when I was 12, because I really was a kid who would have been delighted to visit the Dali, proudly wearing my History of Art smiley face shirt.So it had to happen.
Getting to see iconic works of art in person is always a surreal experience for me. I’ve literally wept in MOMA because I was in the presence of works that were on the covers of books I’d had since elementary school. Seeing the iconic works of Salvador Dali and special exhibit feature Frida Kaklo was surreal. The experience as a whole felt like an elaborate art installation, perhaps commenting on art as tourism or art in the digital/social media era.
On the Sunday of Presidents Day weekend the museum was packed with people, many of whom I got the idea were there because it’s what you’re supposed to do rather than because of a genuine interest in art. I saw a group of girls who stopped to take photos of every piece in the Frida Khalo special exhibit, but never stopping to look at the work or read the explanations of the pieces. There was a couple who had brought a professional camera with the husband attempting to take staged photos of the wife looking pensive while looking in the direction of the art, while he maneuvered an oversized stroller. I overheard comments like, “I think she must have lost a child.” I feel a bit “get off my lawn saying this,” but it was driving me CRAZY. Read the text on the wall next to the piece. People were also getting entirely too close to the art. Some were pointing and just a couple inches from the piece.
MAJOR. FAUX. PAS.
Most of all, I don’t think I’ve ever been so aware of the hordes of people milling around with headphones on listening to the audio tours. It left them completely unaware of the world around them, making it practically impossible to see some of the works. It didn’t help that the layout of the galleries didn’t have an obvious traffic flow, so people were weaving in and out wherever there was space for them.
In spite of all of that, I did enjoy the art.
My favorite pieces were pages from one of Frida’s journals and a photo of Diego with her lipstick kiss on the back. There was something so powerful in those because they were never really meant to be seen by the world. They were for her.
In that same vein, I think what I enjoyed most in the Dali exhibits was Dali Revealed, a collection of photos of Salvador and Gala’s life by their friend Robert Descharnes. My favorite was an aerial view of two plates of shrimp tails and heads titled “Chaos and Order”*. Salvador’s plate was scattered with heads and tails while Gala had perfectly stacked them like firewood on the edge of her plate. It was a mundane moment in their life that wasn’t meant as a larger statement. It was simply who they were. Seemingly unimportant details like these are the elements that I enjoy most because they’re they are the unedited parts of a person, without the persona.
In addition to the main galleries there is the Avant Garden and Café Gala. In the garden is a bench done in the style of “The Persistence of Memory,” with one side curved and twisted with a melting clock draped over the back as well as an interactive piece where guests are encouraged to tie their wristbands to a tree. I didn’t partake in the café, but there was a Crema Catalana that was calling my name and the coffees were served with rock candy lollipops as stirrers. If I had been alone and had time to burn I have no doubt that I would have order both and sat on the patio in the Avant Garden to write just to say I had. The weather was perfect for it.
I resisted the urge to make irresponsible decisions in the gift shop, though I can’t say the same for the BFF. There were shirts, leggings, glassware, pretty much everything short of underwear adorned with Dali and Kahlo works, as well as a book of Frida’s journal with the sketches that I loved so much. I didn’t pick one up, but did walk away with a pack of pins and a patch (my preferred souvenirs), an enamel Frida pin, and a couple pairs of earrings before we rode off into the sunset in search of dinner.
*I think. I didn’t take a photo of it, I didn’t take notes, and I can’t find anything about it online. Perhaps I am the only one taken by a plate of shrimp tails.