Susan Sarandon charms the crowd at a party to celebrate the new Dalí Museum

Provocateur artist Salvador Dalí was known for his less-than-flattering attitudes about women in general.

Then again, Dalí never met Susan Sarandon.

Sunday night, the Academy Award winner joined the celebration of St. Petersburg's new Salvador Dalí Museum, at an intimate gathering of nearly 100 donors counting the hours to Tuesday's grand re-opening.

Sarandon, 64, occasionally visits family in St. Petersburg — once throwing her mother's birthday party at the museum — and was invited to attend. "She has an interest, a passion and an understanding of Dalí," said museum director Dr. Hank Hine.

Sarandon got an early look at the collection, now displayed at the $36 million waterfront structure. Dalí's art drew a surprising response from the typically fearless actor and activist.

"I had nightmares last night," she said backstage. "Some of the images are so effective and really terrifying to me. I had bad dreams, I have to admit. … He probably taps into some psychic place that everybody fears."

With Creative Loafing editor David Warner moderating, Sarandon discussed her career, without the self-consciousness that topic regularly inspires in actors. Dressed readier for tennis than a celebrity showcase, Sarandon was at turns brash and compassionate, discussing her life, craft and concerns as irreverently as Dalí must have approached a canvas.

At one point, Sarandon described the difference between stage and screen acting as "the difference between making love and masturbation. … On stage you have someone there telling you what works and what doesn't."

While describing her childhood, Sarandon recalled taking her eight younger siblings — including St. Petersburg Times outdoors editor Terry Tomalin — to a park where she would pretend to be an unwed mother. "It was the most risque thing I could come up with," she said.

Sarandon was equally candid when asked whom she admires in politics today. Her response was surprising, for such a committed critic at times of U.S. policies and politicians.

"I have used up all my coupons in that area," she said. "I just feel the system is so broken, in terms of who can survive it, that it's hard to imagine anything positive getting done."

In a lighter moment, Sarandon revealed that her trip to St. Petersburg also involved a bit of business. Her first forays into the business world are three table tennis social clubs called Spin, located in New York, Los Angeles and Milwaukee.

Sarandon, with Tomalin as a partner, spent the weekend checking out possible locations for a Spin club in St. Petersburg.

"We've been looking at things, and I think we've found a space," Sarandon said backstage. "It won't be very long to get it up and running. I'm really excited about the idea of there being a Spin here."

The museum's grand re-opening culminates Tuesday with two events, both free and open to the public.

At 9:30 a.m., a "Surreal Procession" begins at the museum's former location at 1000 Third St. S, ending at the new venue's entrance, eight blocks away at 1 Dali Blvd. A ribbon-cutting ceremony including members of Spain's royal family will commence at 11:11 a.m., continuing a numerology theme that Dalí would appreciate.

After the ceremony, the museum will open until 3 p.m. for visitors purchasing advance, timed tickets online.

Susan Sarandon charms the crowd at a party to celebrate the new Dalí Museum 01/10/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 9:50am]

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