Dali Never Dulls


Dr. Saturnino P. Javier is an interventional cardiologist at Makati Medical Center and Asian Hospital and Medical Center. He is a past president of the Philippine Heart Association (PHA) and past editor of PHA’s Newsbriefs

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After attending the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Barcelona, Spain in August this year, what does one do with an extra day in this charming city?Well, I heeded the advice of a Filipino working at the front desk of the hotel where I was staying – “Take a trip to Girona and Figueres before heading back home.”It was a decision I would never regret.

Figueres is a small town in the province of Girona in the Catalonian region of Spain, around 140 km from Barcelona. It would take around two and a half hours to Figueres and Girona via a luxurious bus ride from central Barcelona.

The eccentric master of surrealism and his iconic moustache
The eccentric master of surrealism and his iconic moustache

The highlight of a trip to Figueresis a visit to the Dali Theatre and Museum (Teatro Museo Dali), the museum of Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí (more popularly known as Salvador Dali). Acknowledged as the modern-day symbol of surrealism and one of the most important artists of his time, he was born in Figueres in 1904.

The museum opened in September 1974 and kept expanding until the mid 1980s, with Dali himself supervising additions to the complex. This popular Figueres landmark is an intoxicating brew that is bound to create a heady mix of eerie fun and euphoria, absurdity and artistry, symbolism and mysticism – in all its floors and sections. With rooms numbered 1-35, the structure displays the single largest and most diverse collection of works by Dali – his paintings, sculptures, installations, three-dimensional collages, mechanical constructions, jewellery and photographs, among others. The museum also houses the crypt which contains Dali’s remains.

Dali sufficiently entices everyone starting from the exterior of the museum – all the way to its most innermost corner or most secluded wall.The exterior alone serves as a very appropriate introduction to Dali’s universe – as it sufficiently provokes questions and triggers instant discussions. “What are those? What do they mean?” – are commonplace remarks that visitors blurt out when walking to the Museum from the nearby parking lot.

The instant ‘noise’ that surfaces as one stands several meters away from a stoplight to cross the pedestrian lane to the museum is, quite frankly, understandable. The façade is an interplay of giant eggs, bread and human statues. Lined up as humongous oval structures on its roof, the eggs signify the birth or origin of ideas. The entire facade is dotted with bread-like ceramics works which adorn all sides of the museum. One will never miss the glass dome cupola as it conspicuously juts out above the entire structure. Completing the visual spectacle are statuette-like human-sized figures that adorn the upper portion of the structure.

Visited by more than 4, 000 visitors everyday, the Museum is a testament to the genius and the artistry of Figueres’ most iconic son. Quite a prodigious artist, Dali never stayed in painting alone as he comfortably dabbled in sculpture, theatre, film, fashion and photography.

The indoor spectacle starts at the entrance where one is immediately led to the courtyard. At the center, the courtyard displays an installation inside a full-sized automobile inspired by the movie Rainy Taxi(1938), which Dali himself conceptualized and supervised in his final years.

Picture a dizzying and awe-inspiring interplay of several elements from his life – his allegorical representations, religious allusions, sexual undertones – as Dali blends the real and surreal, the boring usual and the extremely bizarre. The several square meters spanning the courtyard alone is an opiate to the senses. It demands visual appreciation along with the vital need to suspend disbelief and allow the master to play his artistic symphony to the cadence and rhythm of his life.

The central part of the museum is actually the town theatre of Figueres which Dali knew as a child – where one of his first public art exhibitions as an emerging young artist was shown. It was burned during the Spanish Civil War and remained in a state of ruin until 1960, when Dali and the mayor of Figueres decided to rebuild it as a museum to house the collections of its most famous son.

A magnificent glass dome cupola appears to crown the stage of the old theatre. Dali himself is buried in a crypt below the stage floor. The audience section of the theatre is now transformed into the courtyard that welcomes the guests at the entrance to the museum – with numerous nude Dionysian figureines standing like guards in the old balcony windows.

A selfie with the Dali Museum façade
A selfie with the Dali Museum façade

A very interesting highlight in the Museum is a three dimensional installation of a living room with customized furniture pieces that resemble the facial attributes of Mae West. This is best viewed from a specific designated spot in the room through a telescope which integrates all the living room features.

The museum also houses a small selection of works by other artists collected by Dalí – ranging from El Greco, Bougereau, Marcel Duchamp and John de Andrea. The second floor gallery, following the specific request of Dali, displays the works of his friend and fellow Catalan artist, Antoni Pitxot who later became director of the museum after Dalí’s death.

Throughout one’s exploration of the museum complex, one may be alternately fascinated, puzzled or flabbergasted (even shocked, if one is uninitiated in Dali’s world). But as one gets to be drawn deeper to his art and eccentricities, the superficial perception of his life and his works ceases – as more insightful thinking arises.

As Dali himself declared when he was alive, “I want my museum to be a single block, a labyrinth, a great surrealist object. It will be [a] totally theatrical museum. The people who come to see it will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream.”

I have no doubt Dali got what he wished for.