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ST. PETERSBURG — Just when you think you’ve seen all there is to see from Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí, the Dalí Museum digs into its permanent collection and your mind is blown all over again.
“Where Ideas Come From: Dalí’s Drawings” reveals the artist’s lifelong creativity with works that span from 1916 to 1974. It’s organized into four sections that represent the influences and phases of Dalí’s work.
The exhibition focuses on Dalí works on paper, with more than 100 on display, most rarely exhibited because of their fragility. The drawings are rendered in pencil, ink, charcoal, pastels and gouache (an opaque watercolor). They include studies for oil paintings, commercial work — including early posters he made for hometown festivals — portraits and experiments.
The drawings open the window into Dalí’s vivid imagination and sense of humor. In one example, after discovering a dead fly smooshed on a piece of paper, he kept it there and was inspired to create tromp l’oeil flies, said Peter Tush, who curated the show. The end result was “Seven Flies (and a Model),” which Dalí entered into an exhibition, dead fly and all.
Another treat is the exquisite corpse drawing Dalí made with his wife Gala, the surrealist Andre Breton and his companion Valentine Hugo. “Exquisite corpse” is a surrealist parlor game in which four people depict a different section of the human form, then put it all together. This game has had a resurgence locally in the past few years, so it’s very cool to see the OGs’ version.
Here are a few highlights of the exhibition.
“Soft Watch Exploding”
This study for the 1954 painting “Soft Watch Exploding” marks a shift in what Dalí was thinking about at this time after the atomic bomb had been dropped. He began calling himself a nuclear mystic painter and was deeply interested in science and metaphors for the atomic world, Tush said. The piece is a deconstruction of the 1931 painting “The Persistence of Memory,” which depicts the iconic melting watch that was inspired by Camembert cheese. Tush pointed out that in this treatment, the watch is shattering — indicative of Dalí’s view of the world as fragile.
“Dinner in the Desert Lit By Burning Giraffes”
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In the 1930s, Dalí came to the United States and met Harpo Marx at a party, Tush said. He decided to go to California and work with the Marx Brothers and write a screenplay for them that was never produced. But he made sketches of the surrealist ideas he had for the film, three of which are on display. In this one, guests attend a dinner party where there are giraffes on fire.
“The Sardana of the Witches”
This scene will look familiar to anyone who has seen the terrifying 2015 film “The Witch.” Writer-director Robert Eggers’ inspiration for the ending becomes clear when looking at this work, which was itself inspired by Henri Matisse’s “The Dance.” Dalí created this image for a poster for a festival in Cadaqués, Spain. He made this piece before ever attending art school, but it’s an early glimpse into his surreal subject matter.
“Stone Shadows in the Afternoon”
This work from 1952 is one of three carpet designs Dalí made for Mohawk Mills, indicative of his embrace of commercial opportunities after arriving in the United States. The carpets were never produced, but the designs (rendered in gouache on strawboard) were purchased by the Dalí Museum in 1987.
“Conquest of the Irrational”
The museum recently acquired this book Dalí made in 1935 to explain the concept of the “paranoiac-critical method.” The book features a drawing he made for surrealist poet Paul Eluard (Gala’s former husband). It is based on Dalí’s painting “Paranoiac Face,” one of the most important double images in his repertoire. The image has also been blown up on the wall near the book, indicative of its significance and that of the acquisition.
The drawing room
The Dalí Museum is known for incorporating technology like artificial intelligence and augmented reality into its exhibits, but it went analog with this one. The exhibit ends with a drawing room where guests can draw some of the images that are being demonstrated on large screens. Tush said the activity has been extremely popular, with guests filling up the room on weekends.
It proves what one of Dalí’s quotes showcased on a wall in this exhibit posits: “Drawing is the touchstone of art.”
What to know before you go to The Dalí Museum
“Where Ideas Come From: Dalí’s Drawings” is on view through Oct. 22. $29, discounts available for seniors, students, children and more. 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.