The museum holds the largest collection outside of Spain of art by the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali. Cleveland industrialist Reynolds Morse and his wife, Eleanor, donated the collection, which represents a 45-year friendship between the Morses and Dali and his wife, Gala.
Built at a cost of $36 million, this astonishing one-of-a-kind structure along St. Petersburg's waterfront is double the size of the old Dali Museum, which opened in 1982. It was designed specifically for the collection, and for the first time in its history, the museum will have room to continuously exhibit all 96 paintings that are in its permanent collection.
The first floor has admissions, a gift shop, cafe, community room, classroom and theater. The third floor houses galleries. The second floor is for administration and a research library and is not open to the public.
It has two distinctive architectural elements:
The architectural element known as the “Glass Enigma,” visible from the outside of the museum, is composed of 1,062 glass triangles. It is the only structure of its kind and size in the United States. The panes are cleaned by climbers who can bolt into anchors built into the metal grid holding the glass, then ascend with buckets of soap and water.
Inside, a free-standing spiral staircase was created onsite by pouring concrete into molds attached to scaffolding rising 60 feet. Architect Yann Weymouth said it was tested to withstand the most grueling stress: two rugby teams dancing on it to disco music.
The grounds, called the Avant Garden, include examples of the golden rectangle and golden spiral, based on the Fibonacci sequence, found in natural forms. It’s a progressive sequence of numbers in which each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two: 1 + 1 = 2; 1 + 2 = 3; 2 + 3 = 5; 3 + 5 = 8 and so on. When applied to spacial ratios, it forms what many consider to be the most aesthetically beautiful proportions in art and architecture. Dalí used both principles in his paintings (see the Nature Morte Vivante, for example).
Another landscape feature is a labyrinth modeled on one at Chartres Cathedral in France. Unlike a maze, there are no wrong turns and there is only one way in and out so you can’t get lost.
The northwest corner of the building appears to be supported by a large boulder. The “rock” is concrete that surrounds the real support and has been finished to resemble the limestone used in the landscaping. It’s fitted with misters and planters. On one side of the concrete “rock,” a spigot dispenses drinking water that museum director Hank Hine calls the Fountain of Youth.
An estimated 1,200 to 1,600 tons of Florida limestone dot the site. Most were excavated from the Homestead area, where the densest examples are found.
The only non-Florida rock is one given to the Dali Museum by Cadaques, the village in northeastern Spain where Dali grew up. The area is famous for its stone outcroppings, and Dali used them frequently in his landscapes. Most of the area is considered a protected preserve; special government permission was needed to remove this 4,500-pound rock. It sits alone between two ficus trees on the east side of the garden.
The Center for the Arts Plaza connects the Dali Museum to the Mahaffey Theater. It is planted with a grove (called a bosk, which implies a symmetrical design) of crepe myrtle trees strung with LED lights called Tivolis, a broad expanse of lawn and wide grass steps.