ST. PETERSBURG — Salvador Dalí knew he’d never entirely die.
He knew he’d stay alive not just through his legacy and artwork. Somehow, the Surrealist knew he’d be back.
Now he is, thanks to the Dalí Museum’s new digital experience “Dalí Lives.” It opens to the public on Saturday, which would have been the artist’s 115th birthday.
Dalí’s likeness appears on three screens throughout the museum thanks to artificial intelligence technology revealed at a media preview Thursday.
The permanent installation is a collaboration between the museum and Goodby Silverstein and Partners of San Francisco. It began with hundreds of interviews, letters, quotes and archival footage of Dalí. The firm used more than 6,000 frames of Dalí to create an algorithm that would learn aspects of his face.
A worldwide search went out for a voice actor who could mimic Dalí’s unique accent. The firm found a body actor with his same build. More than 45 minutes of footage spans 125 videos and thousands of possible combinations, so visitors will get to experience a variety of interactions with the artist.
The resemblance is uncanny and gives a sense of his spirited personality. He’s cheeky, braggadocios and exactly the person you’d want to sit next to at dinner. The new footage also brings to life many of Dalí’s famous quips that were never recorded. Museum staff made sure that even his movements were authentic. He walks, gesticulates, adjusts his tie. He paints with a specific brush that he used.
Dalí, a famously unabashed self-promoter and experimental artist, would probably approve.
He welcomes visitors on the first screen at the museum’s entrance, challenging them to interpret him. The technology also has the ability to detect weather, so he comments on that.
The next screen is upstairs, positioned outside the gallery that houses the permanent collection. Here he gives insight to his life and his work, calling the pieces “dream photographs.” In another video, he says his famous line:
“The only difference between a madman and myself is that I am not mad.”
For the past several years, the Dalí Museum has been using digital technology. In 2014, “Gala Contemplating You” turned visitors’ selfies into a projected full-scale replica of the 1976 monumental painting Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea Which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (Homage to Rothko). In 2016, the museum created the “Dreams of Dalí” virtual reality experience, which transports viewers into Dalí’s painting, Archaeological Reminiscence of Millet’s “Angelus.”
Viewers can appear digitally in paintings in the museum’s current exhibition “Magritte and Dalí.” And in June, the museum opens “Masterworks,” which uses augmented reality to explore Dalí’s paintings.
It’s all in keeping with changes in the museum industry. Kathy Grief, chief operating officer, said 96 percent of viewers who saw “Dreams of Dalí” wanted more exhibits like it.
“We like to give visitors an opportunity to be part of the art and that’s what these engaging installations really do,” she said. “We’re also continuing to study our visitors interests and motivations. These types of experiences really influence their motivation to visit and their feelings about the time that they spent while they’re here.”
We meet Dalí one last time at the museum’s exit in the gift shop, where he invites us to take a selfie with him. Dalí appears to take the selfie himself; visitors then get a code to text and receive the photo.
He invites you to come back and says goodbye:
Contact Maggie Duffy at mduffy at tampabay.com. Follow @maggiedalexis.