The old Salvador Dalí Museum wows visitors for the last time

Salvador Dalí Museum director Hank Hine pours a glass of champagne for Pam Wilson during a closing party at the museum’s Third Street South location Sunday evening. The old Dalí Museum closed for good Sunday. The new Dalí Museum is scheduled to open Jan. 11.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Salvador Dalí Museum director Hank Hine pours a glass of champagne for Pam Wilson during a closing party at the museum’s Third Street South location Sunday evening. The old Dalí Museum closed for good Sunday. The new Dalí Museum is scheduled to open Jan. 11.

ST. PETERSBURG — On the last tour of the last day of the old Salvador Dalí Museum, veteran docent Janice Embrey wove the same path through the halls of surreal masterwork, narrating nuances of each painting to dozens of gathered patrons, but battling the welling pangs of nostalgia.

So many memories were infused in the building, in the mind-bending blurs of oil on canvas it has held since 1982.

She remembers fondly the days of rapturous coos from tour groups as they felt the revelation of finding a hidden shape or meaning in the largest collection of Dalí's work outside of Spain.

Friends and co-workers met here, fell in love here, were married here. But at 6 p.m. Sunday, the museum's gallery doors were shut to visitors for the last time.

Although a new Dalí Museum is scheduled to open eight blocks north at 11:11 a.m. Jan. 11 —numerology was a fancy of the artist — the old building at 1000 Third St. S drips of memories like a melting clock on a tree branch.

"I can't believe I didn't cry," Embrey said after the tour.

For the past 13 years, Embrey has been giving tours at the museum. And to the last, the patrons, even visitors who have been to the museum many times over many years, still pelt her with questions.

One was Carlos Bolado from Dunedin, who first visited the museum with his wife a decade ago — and by some stroke of luck, or coincidence, decided to visit the museum Sunday. "We have so many memories here," Bolado said. "The timing worked out. I don't believe in coincidence."

Embrey interjected.

"Dalí does. He would have called it subjective chance," she said.

Others expressly chose Sunday to visit the museum, and even in a final visit after years of patronage, those like Serge Baril and his wife, Aline Baril, discovered new things. "My wife had never seen the link in the face of Lincoln," Baril said, referring to the face of the 16th president surrounding a woman's naked backside in Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea.

The new museum will overshadow the intimate nature of the former shrine to the Catalonian master, with twice the space, its gravity-defying spiral staircase and a massive exterior geodesic glass edifice.

The loss of close, soft-lit communion with the art and patrons, however, is what Embrey said she will miss most. But ultimately, she mused, that doesn't matter. "Dalí's art will blow your mind no matter where it is," Embrey said.

Dominick Tao can be reached at dtao@sptimes.com or (727) 580-2951.

The old Salvador Dalí Museum wows visitors for the last time 01/02/11 [Last modified: Sunday, January 2, 2011 10:14pm]

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