Amorphous clocks melting all over a canvas. Excited hands gesturing toward some obscure symbol or double image that Salvador Dalí included to shock the viewer. A captivated crowd leaning close to the painting, straining to understand the esoteric nature of Dalí's bizarre thoughts.
This is the scene that usually greets those who enter the Dalí Museum, an eclectic building that houses some of the most unconventional art of the 20th century. Dalí, a maverick born in Spain in 1904, was notorious for spearheading the surrealist art movement of the 1940s and for rocking the modern art world with absurd, often disturbing images.
The museum has a crew of trained adult docents who take classes through the extensive permanent collection as well as the current exhibitions (i.e. Dalí & da Vinci: Invention as Art and the former Picasso/Dalí, Dalí/Picasso show). However, for the third year in a row, the museum also has educated high school students interested in art history on Dalí's collection under the fragmented geodesic dome. The peculiar tales behind The Hallucinogenic Toreador or Galacidalacidesoxyribonucleicacid are no longer limited to seasoned adult ears; Tampa Bay teenagers also are navigating the upside down (and often sexually imbued) world of the Surrealists.
Sam Joyce, a junior at St. Petersburg High, participated in the teen docent program because his teacher thought he would be interested in doing it.
"My favorite part about the program is learning about all the history linked with Dalí's paintings," said Joyce. The teens, mostly from St. Petersburg High and Osceola High, immerse themselves in the avant-garde on Tuesday nights and also give tours to the public on certain days.
Haoshan Jiang, a senior at St. Petersburg High, enjoys his time at the cultured Dalí. "It's a nice building, and you get to meet lovely people. There is a great selection of art as well. My favorite painting is The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus."
Besides listening to art lectures delivered by Peter Tush, the curator of education, the students also practice public speaking skills necessary to give a stellar and coherent presentation. "When you are presenting, you often forget half of what you were going to say," admitted Jiang.
Other students thrive on public speaking and enjoy engaging with the public. "I don't get nervous presenting," said Joyce.
Marina Palese, also a senior at St. Petersburg High, remembers one particular tour in which she spoke about Eggs on the Plate Without the Plate, a painting completed by Dalí in 1932. "I said that Dalí relates the penetrating eyes of Gala, Dali's wife, to the literal penetration of the eyes of St. Lucy on the tour," Palese said with a smile.
Dalí often included religious allusions such as the one to St. Lucy, a woman who had her eyes gouged out and put on a plate. This macabre connection may have been appreciated by Palese, but other teen docents are not so keen on the personality of Dalí.
"Dalí can be funny at times, but I wouldn't have wanted to room with him at college," said Joyce.
While his personality was eccentric, his technical skill was undoubtedly immense. "I like his appreciation of science and math," Palese said.
Dalí danced through an art phase in which he painted with painstaking detail, but he ultimately abandoned realistic painting for surrealism and nuclear mysticism. Looking out at the massive black mustache anchored in the garden patio, Jiang commented, "He was very much an individual, creative and eccentric person."
A giant art figure with an even larger personality, Dalí continues to educate and amuse people of all ages, especially the teen docent class of 2014-15 at the museum.
Most student-run tours take place on select Tuesday, starting at 4:30 p.m. Contact the museum for specific times and dates.
Editor's note: Mackenzie Patel is a teen docent at the Dalí Museum.