3 museums showing enduring appeal of Dali

There are already signs along Peachtree Street for the High Museum of Art’s major coming attraction, “Salvador Dali: The Late Work,” opening Aug. 7. Oglethorpe University Museum of Art recently announced that it will host a smaller exhibit of Dali lithographs starting July 11. And the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., continues construction on a $35 million showplace that will double the size of its current facility. A January opening fit for a duchess is planned.

Given the number of exhibits, publications, prints, posters and general scrutiny his work has been given since his 1989 death, you'd think people would be wanting to say goodbye to Dali instead of hello at this late date. But even the High's guest curator for "The Late Work," Elliott King, has marveled that the public's thirst is unslaked.

"Most people are attracted to his imagination and the creativity involved in his works, the dream-like landscapes, and really struck by his inventiveness," said King, a University of Colorado lecturer in modern European art. "Combined with that imagination is this extraordinary technique that is so realistic and so well executed and well painted, that even if you find the imagery strange or confusing, you can't help but admire how well he did it."

Comprising more than 100 pieces, including 40 paintings and related drawings, prints and other ephemera, "The Late Work” is billed as the first major show to focus on the last half of Dali’s career.

Among exhibit highlights will be several works that have not been seen in the U.S. in more than five decades, including the monumental (80 inches tall by 45 inches wide) “Christ of St. John of the Cross” and “Santiago El Grande.” The latter was designed as an altarpiece and juxtaposes Dalí’s vision of the Crucifixion, an homage to Saint James (the patron saint of Spain) and an atomic explosion.

The High is organizing the show in collaboration with the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., and the Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali in Figueres, Spain, one of that country's top tourist attractions.

The central Florida museum last week announced that members of the Royal Family of Spain, including Infanta Cristina, Duchess of Palma de Mallorca, will attend the grand opening on Jan. 11.

Overlooking Tampa Bay, eight blocks north of its current location, the new Dali Museum will grow to 66,450 square feet, the better to showcase works from a 2,140-piece collection.

Its exterior is as cosmic as you’d expect for the artist known for melting timepieces: A geodesic “glass enigma” encloses a foyer and flows from the “treasure box” housing the priceless artwork. Greeting visitors inside is a spiral staircase evoking a DNA strand.

Fanciful architecture aside, the museum is being built with protection of irreplaceable art as a priority, to be able to withstand a category five hurricane.

The design is by Tampa architect Yann Weymouth of Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum (HOK), who collaborated with I.M. Pei on the renovation of the Louvre in Paris. (Take note, trivia fans: Weymouth is brother of Talking Heads bassist Tina Weymouth.)

Meanwhile, Atlantans will get a double dip of Dali this summer, as the Oglethorpe University Museum of Art exhibits a recent gift of 14 original lithographs by the mustachioed master, starting July 11. The prints (including 12 four-color ones) are from an anonymous corporate donor and have never been on public display.

Of course, Dali, whose boundless creativity and productivity could barely be contained by one century, was much into showmanship and self-promotion, even when the rise of abstraction made surrealism suddenly passe.

High guest curator King calls it his "mission in life" to point out what critics missed of Dali while they focused on abstraction, Pop art and hyper-realism.

Speaking of works where the Spanish artist's Catholic faith and interest in the mystical melted together, King says, "Now, we can look back at what Dali was doing in the '50s, and we can say it was so out of step that it was bold for him to be doing it."

Dali's many fans, excited by the opportunity to behold a procession of rarely shown major late pieces, need little persuasion. The Meeting Dali! blog (meetingdali.blogspot.com) has already proclaimed Atlanta "the center of the Dali universe this summer."

Art preview

Dali lithographs. Oglethorpe University Museum of Art. July 11-Sept. 5. 404-364-8555, museum.oglethorpe.edu

“Salvador Dali: The Late Work,” High Museum of Art, Aug. 7-Jan. 9. 2011 404-733-4444, www.high.org

Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Fla. Opening Jan. 11.2011 1-800-442-3254, www.thedali.org

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