ST. PETERSBURG — A new exhibit at The Dalí Museum is turning dreams into physical images. Literally.
From ones centuries old to ones not yet realized, dreams are at the center of a new two-part exhibit running through April 30.
One part of “The Shape of Dreams” is a traditional showing of works spanning 500 years. Curated by executive director Hank Hine, paintings depicting dreams from the 16th to 20th centuries are on loan from prestigious institutions including the National Gallery of Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the St. Louis Art Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Chicago Art Institute and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The other part is an interactive artificial intelligence experience known as the Dream Tapestry, where guests can have their dreams materialized. I tried it with my own dreams, and the results were fascinating.
Of course, works by Dalí from the museum’s permanent collection are included in the exhibition, as the artist famously created artworks based on his dreams. The exhibition also includes powerhouse artists like Giorgio de Chirico, Jackson Pollack and Frida Kahlo. It’s interesting to see what their dreams look like.
The concept of dreams forging a connection to the heavens is explored by Domenico Feti in “Jacob’s Dream” (c. 1613-1614), which depicts biblical figure Jacob dreaming of angels on a staircase that connects earth and heaven.
Another reference to Jacob’s Ladder comes with Dalí's “The Broken Bridge and the Dream,” which depicts a stairway to the sky, but the bridge is broken. Two figures gesture in opposite directions — up and down, suggesting that the dream is the vehicle to heaven and that we have a choice whether or not to ignore the dream.
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After being immersed in others’ dreams, it was time to explore my own with the artificial intelligence-powered Dream Tapestry. It was developed by The Dalí in collaboration with Goodby Silverstein & Partners, Minds Over Matter, and OpenAI — the creator of the text-to-image AI system DALL-E, which was named in part as a nod to Dalí.
The Dream Tapestry is the first time DALL-E has been used for an interactive experience at a museum. DALL-E creates original, painterly images from written descriptions. In the museum, it works like this: Scan a QR code on one of the screens with your smart device and then type some text that describes your dream using your device.
A few minutes later, your dream appears on the screen you scanned. Seconds later, the images are collaged into one and, after that, the software fills in the borders of the images to create a seamless tapestry, displayed on a 12-foot screen.
The images of your individual dreams and the tapestries are available for download, and also live on the Dalí's website.
There is an ongoing debate about artificial intelligence and art, because the technology studies millions of images of existing artwork to create a seemingly original piece. Critics include artists who say the technology uses their work without consent, but others see it as a great tool for those who can’t make the brain-to-canvas connection themselves.
The Dalí has been incorporating technology in its exhibits for several years now, and has found that presenting it with fine artwork appeals to a wide audience. Hine said that while artificial intelligence opens doors, it also raises questions.
“To what extent do we want our paintings made by a machine?” he said. “How do we want to see our things manifested by artificial intelligence? What will our relation be to these capabilities? So all this is very provocative. And at the Dalí Museum, our real intent here is to open discussions.”
The Dream Tapestry will provide people with a physical image of their dreams, or what’s tucked inside their memory.
It’s best if you go in thinking about a recent, recurring or favorite dream you’ve had. Since my dreams are often meandering and difficult to articulate, I picked out one aspect of each dream. Be as detailed as possible, said Beth Bell, the museum’s marketing director who helped me create my own tapestry.
I came with six dreams and, with the help of museum staff, plugged in the text at the same time. Unless you’re in a large group, it’s likely that you’ll be sharing the tapestry with strangers and their dreams. But look at that as an opportunity to bond.
We did the experiment three times to see the different ways DALL-E interpreted the text.
Here are my dreams:
A winding staircase keeps changing directions.
This was a frustration dream in which I’m trying in vain to accomplish something. It dawned on me that this could also be like the Jacob’s Ladder concept explored by the artists in the exhibition. DALL-E made grand staircases with ethereal female figures on them.
I’m driving a blue sedan down a hilly, tree-lined street and the brakes don’t work.
This recurring dream is one that usually wakes me up in a cold sweat with the sensation of crashing. DALL-E removed most of the anxiety and made the sedan into an old-fashioned buggy.
A woman gathering beautiful candy in a colorful, pillow-filled room.
I can’t really fathom where this came from, and the dream was really fuzzy, but I’d love to have colorful, luxurious dreams like the ones DALL-E envisioned more often.
A mustached man working out near a petite blonde woman at the gym.
So the man was actually Burt Reynolds and in my dream he was the manager of my gym. But we didn’t want to plug his name in and risk copyright infringement or something. DALL-E’s three interpretations of this differed more than the other dreams and they were all much creepier than my actual dream.
A black doodle dog grows unnaturally tall.
DALL-E nailed this one in which my cute, perpetually-under-my-feet doodle dog (I don’t know his actual breed) grew really tall, but with surrealist flair.
A petite blonde woman finds herself on the Golden Gate Bridge with cars whizzing by.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am blonde and petite. This was actually a terrifying and life-threatening dream, but DALL-E kept me safely away from the cars, looking romantic.
And voila: three tapestries of my weird, sometimes anxiety-riddled dreams. My favorite overall is the one with the dog looking at an art exhibition in the sky and several disembodied heads, because to me it captures the mystery and wonder of my dream world.
What will your dreams look like?
If you go
“The Shape of Dreams.” On view through April 30. $12-$29, free for children 5 and younger and guests eligible for the Museums for All program. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. every day except Thursday, when the museum is open until 8 p.m. The Dalí Museum, 1 Dalí Blvd. (Bayshore Drive and Fifth Avenue SE), St. Petersburg. 727-823-3767. thedali.org.