AmLit Abroad: Dali's own Teatro-Museo Dali in Catalonia
Would you pay less than 12 Euro to travel through Dali’s head? In Figueres, Catalonia, you can. But be warned—no drugs are needed for this trip.
He created the museum, Teatro-Museo Dali, by his own hand and head to house his artwork. It is the largest surrealist object in the world, crafted from a former theatre destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. It’s compartmentalized yet open; logical yet irrational; and predictably erratic.
In Dali’s autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, he confesses to not completing quotidian activities like telling time, tying his shoes, and looking before crossing the street. Considering his nature, he left a surprising worldwide legacy. The museum is part of it.
It is discernable from simple surroundings because of its exterior, comprised of enormous egg sculptures and bread carved into the walls solely because he felt they were necessary ingredients for life. Or for a building.
Located in his hometown, it is the area’s main attraction. The small town feels much too quiet and relaxed to hold something so strange. But it’s there anyway. Nothing about it makes sense, or maybe it makes all the more sense because of the lack of sense. It was Dali, after all.
Inside the museum, each room is loosely thematic. The main area is a high-vaulted entrance with a view of walkable gardens in the building’s outdoor center. The circular outdoor center features snails carved into surrounding rock, a raining car contraption, and a nude woman on top pulling chains. The entrance’s ceiling is hand painted by Dali á la Sistine Chapel style- emotionally full of meaning and movement- accompanied by a spacious, bright interior.
To the left is the “Jewels” exhibit, a cramped, barely ventilated box laced with red velvet. He considered it his jewelry box and put his most meaningful paintings there. Most of them pertain to his wife Gala, as if to preserve her. Not to mention the hedges outside form “G” shapes in her honor. Sarcastically, one might go so far as to say he was in love. Who knew.
The next room, up winding stairs, leads to a dark space with objects that form a giant face. Or maybe it’s furniture if you look at it literally, with a couch for a mouth and curtains of hair. Actual hair. But you can only see the face if you walk up more stairs and view it from a specific angle under a microscope. It’s surrounded by a porthole where you can glimpse a green holographic world, absurd paintings of breast feeding, and contorted human sculptures (furnished with fabulous mustaches).
The following rooms are less easily described. They are deepened with more alien-like holograms of men playing cards and a reflection of the viewer behind them, sunken displays of strange armor, spiral spoon sculptures descending from the ceiling, distorted mannequins: broken things, full things, simple things, complex things, nonsensical things. Everywhere. It’s a mesmerizing mania you can’t escape.
Throughout the museum, though, there are moments of mental peace: a realistic depiction of a floating balloon, a plain coin designed by Dali, or a posed portrait of Gala. These moments, when you realize that the simple things aren’t so simple, are the museum’s true treasures. They are obscured by absurdity, but when you see something recognizable, logical, “normal”—you pause. Breathe. You question what is normal, who defines normal, who decides what is real and what isn’t and what could be.
Dali’s remains lie in the museum’s basement, but his art’s talent of forcing interpretation, or simply acceptance, is alive in Figueres.