Salvador Dali's eccentric appearance helped to fuel his reputation as one of the most unusual artists of the 20th century.
There was the flowing cape, the handlebar mustache, the popping eyes, the raven hair.
So what better way to get people excited about Dali's work than to have them channel the odd Catalan artist himself?
That's the thinking behind the Salvador Dali Museum's first Dali Look-Alike Contest. The museum is accepting video submissions until April 20 and has signed up cult director John Waters of Hairspray and Serial Mom fame to judge the contest.
No need to break out the mustache wax and hair dye just yet. Museum officials want contestants to approach the contest conceptually. Think ants, melting clocks, screaming women.
"It is about the spirit of Dali," said Kathy White, deputy director of the museum. "In a way, the more raw, the more creative the video is, the more entertaining it can be."
Eager to engage locals and encourage repeat visits to the museum, the look-alike contest is the latest in a series of alternative marketing campaigns the Dali has embraced as museum staffers prepare to break ground on a waterfront, $32-million building this year.
The unusual advertisements started more than a year ago with a tongue-in-check video apologizing for a billboard that featured a bare rear end barely visible from the road. The museum filmed its staff pretending to be shocked by the billboard and posted the short film on youtube.com.
Soon, visitors showed up at the museum asking about the video. More films followed.
"This is a serious institution but is also about surrealism," said Peggy McKendry, the museum's Web assistant who stars in the apology videos. "We want people to have fun."
Then the museum staff began posting "surreal news," true stories so odd they read like fiction, on the Web site. They created how-to guides on finger puppets that looked like bulls and grasshoppers. They launched a lecture series at the Studio@620 on First Avenue S and teamed up with Eckerd College to host an international film series in March.
The new museum, slated to open in 2010 next to the Mahaffey Theater, will feature state-of-the-art technology, a permanent gallery for student art, and areas where the nearly 200,000 yearly visitors can contemplate Dali's work.
It will be the kind of place museum officials don't want just tourists to visit. Less than 15 percent of the Dali's annual visitors live in Pinellas County. About 50 percent live in Florida.
"When we build the new museum, we want to have larger numbers all around," White said.
"You have to find different ways to connect with an audience that wouldn't necessarily come to a museum. All of this is meant to do that."
The winner of the look-alike contest will be announced at a costume party honoring Dali's 104th birthday at the museum on May 10. Waters will judge the submissions while in town April 26 to discuss the museum's latest "Dali & Film" exhibition.
"It is the perfect thing for him to be judging," White said. "His sense of humor and Dali's sense of humor are similar."
Museum officials said they are not sure what to expect from the submissions.
Emulating Dali, an artist who worked hard to earn his controversial reputation, could mean anything, White said.
Dali once wrote "Sometimes I Spit with Pleasure on the Portrait of My Mother" on one of his drawings. He showed up for a lecture in Paris in a Rolls-Royce stuffed with cauliflower. He owned a long black Cadillac that rained inside itself whenever a visitor dropped a coin into a slot.
Bob Devin Jones, co-artistic director of the Studio@620, said he is debating whether to create a video in homage to Dali's images of flaming giraffes.
Then there was the man who approached White at the museum to tell her about his idea for the look-alike contest.
I'm thinking of filming myself throwing cats in the air, the man told her.
Great, White said. The Spanish surrealist had done the same thing once himself.
Later, she ruminated about the idea. She hoped the man wouldn't use actual cats.
Cristina Silva can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8846.