Dalí Museum Opens in Spain

Salvador Dalí’s native city honored him with its Teatro-Museo Dalí, a true Dalínian museum that would become the greatest repository of works produced and collected by the artist and his wife.

Summary of Event

The year 1974 marked the inauguration of the Teatro-Museo Dalí in Figueres, a city in the northeastern Spanish province of Catalonia. The museum evolved from a former civic theater that was destroyed by fire during the Spanish Civil War. Many critics make the distinction that this is not a “Dalí museum,” an institution housing artifacts by Salvador Dalí, but rather a Dalínian one that is saturated with the living ideologies and creative spirit of a true twentieth century genius. Dalí exists and breathes when one enters the structure, since there are numerous kinetic sculptures, theatrical props, and constructed environments that provoke viewer participation. Teatro-Museo Dalí[Teatro Museo Dalí]
[kw]Dalí Museum Opens in Spain (Sept. 28, 1974)
[kw]Museum Opens in Spain, Dalí (Sept. 28, 1974)
[kw]Spain, Dalí Museum Opens in (Sept. 28, 1974)
Teatro-Museo Dalí[Teatro Museo Dalí]
[g]Europe;Sept. 28, 1974: Dalí Museum Opens in Spain[01680]
[g]Spain;Sept. 28, 1974: Dalí Museum Opens in Spain[01680]
[c]Arts;Sept. 28, 1974: Dalí Museum Opens in Spain[01680]
[c]Organizations and institutions;Sept. 28, 1974: Dalí Museum Opens in Spain[01680]
Dalí, Salvador
Dalí, Gala
Goemans, Camille
Buñuel, Luis
Pérez Piñero, Emilio

Ironically, Figueres, his native town, appears throughout Dalí’s life story in mixed terms. He spent most of his childhood and early youth enjoying the splendor of the great plain of Ampurdan, in which Figueres lies, and of the olive trees and sharp rock formations of the Catalonian coast. He attended the state school in Figueres and then went to a private school. Although in 1921 he went to Madrid for studies at the Fine Arts Academy, it was at his Figueres studio in the early 1920’s that he developed a Futurist fantastic style like that of Marc Chagall. In 1923, Dalí was sent home to Figueres after charges of insubordination at the Fine Arts Academy. He was arrested and imprisoned for a month in Figueres after his involvement in a burning of the Spanish flag, after a riot at the art school in Figueres protesting the rise to power of dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera in 1923.

Figueres, however, was a source of stability for Dalí and a place to which he could return. There he painted one of his most renowned works, The Great Masturbator (1929), Great Masturbator, The (Dalí) which, according to Dalí, demonstrated his “heterosexual anxiety.” Gala, the wife of poet Paul Éluard and the source of Dalí’s maddening passion, had just returned to Paris, and Dalí’s fears of impotence were stirred. The Enigma of Desire: My Mother, My Mother, My Mother (1929), Enigma of Desire, The (Dalí) painted during the same period in Figueres, was his first work sold at the Goemans Gallery during his first one-man show there.

It is therefore in a sense poetic justice that, after all of Dalí’s trials and tribulations involving Figueres, his birthplace finally paid tribute to its most celebrated citizen through construction of the Teatro-Museo Dalí. Visitors are overwhelmed first by the lavish facade of the reconstructed theater. A crown of gilded Art Deco mannequins made of synthetic material encircles the roof of the entranceway; one figure at the extreme right holds a hydrogen atom. Beneath the crown in the center of the pediment are the figures of Dalí and Gala on a medallion. Nearby stands the famous Gorgot Tower, which was added in 1981 and renamed the Galatea Tower. Dalí convinced the museum administration to purchase the huge structure, formerly a middle-class housing complex. It houses Dalí books, videos, and other collectibles and also provides storage and exhibition rooms.

Part of the excitement surrounding the opening of the Teatro-Museo Dalí involved the theatrical nature of the museum, conceived as a piece of environmental sculpture. In fact, from the late 1930’s onward, Dalí was excited about creating whole environments and artifacts on a monumental scale. Some of his earlier endeavors included a pavilion titled Dream of Venus for the New York World’s Fair in 1939. This work was to consist of a huge water tank filled with sirens, a man composed of table tennis rackets, a backdrop of surrealistic soft watches in a landscape, and magnified reproductions of Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

In his Teatro-Museo Dalí, the artist had an entire room turned into a depiction of Mae West’s face. The idea for such a fantastic environmental sculpture was based on a gouache by Dalí in the Art Institute of Chicago titled Face of Mae West Which Can Be Used as an Apartment
Face of Mae West Which Can Be Used as an Apartment (Dalí) (1943). Interesting to note is that Dalí, in the 1930’s, did a series of paintings in which paranoiac faces protrude from landscapes sometimes formed by parts of the body. The entire Mae West environment is ingenious. Huge bulbous curtains, representing her hair, frame the room, turning the environmental piece of art into a stage set. The audience stands on a small platform to gaze at it from a designated height and angle. Catalan architect and decorator Oscar Tusquest collaborated with Dalí on this memorable project.

Entrance to the Teatro-Museo Dalí in Figueres, Spain. In the background is the museum’s geodesic dome.

(©iStockphoto.com/Victoria Wren)

Another startling environmental work in the museum, which captures the eccentric, theatrical spirit of Dalí and which stimulates audience participation, is the interior court area. It houses Queen Esther, a bronze sculpture by Ernst Fuchs. A 1940 Cadillac, on which Esther serves as a huge radiator cap, is transformed into Rainy Taxi; a huge stage design for the ballet Labyrinth (1941) completes the project. Many of the rooms in the museum are filled with kinetic objects that reflect Dalí’s interest in optical illusions.

Perhaps the most rewarding surprises awaiting visitors to the Dalí museum in Figueres—after the initial splendor of Emilio Pérez Piñero’s reticular cupola of a dazzling Byzantine-like geodesic dome that crowns the old theater-turned-museum—are spellbinding ceiling canvases. Foyer of the Old Theater (1971-1972), Foyer of the Old Theater (Dalí) an oil on canvas, depicts the interaction between the painter, Dalí, and his native plain. The love between artist and countrymen is immortalized. The former’s fame has precipitated showers of gold coins, which dramatically fall from the sky onto the citizens of Figueres. Another spectacular sight is one of the five ceiling panels of the famed reception room titled The Daughter of the West Wind/ To the East Wind Was Wed/ When He Went to See Her/ Returned Crying to His Bed. In this beautifully dynamic and colorful canvas, Dalí and Gala are seated together, romantically contemplating the landscape of the plain of Ampurdan. The title of the work is taken from a Catalonian poem.


The effects of the 1974 opening of the Teatro-Museo Dalí, in addition to placing Figueres on the map as a great cultural center and immortalizing its star citizen, were varied. First, the museum gave validity to Salvador Dalí as a great exponent of Surrealism. From about 1929, after his banishment from his family (a result in part of his relationship with a foreign married woman) and his arrival in Paris, he rejoined Gala, who had just left Paul Éluard. Dalí began to participate enthusiastically in the Surrealists’ activities. Even though the subject matter in his paintings clashed with the works of other exponents of Surrealism, André Breton, the organizer of this group, still acknowledged that Dalí provided a vital force to the movement, which owed much to his ingenious, fantastic imagery. Highly publicized rifts, such as the one involving Dalí’s expulsion from the group in 1934 because of his erotic, obsessive, Adolf Hitler-imaged paintings, only heightened his role in Surrealism. Dalí proclaimed that he was too much of a Surrealist for the group; the members, however, needed such a publicity-getting, highly controversial figure as Dalí.

The artifacts in Dalí’s museum affected or inspired other art forms and new techniques. He was an innovator who combined the pictorial medium with new ways of achieving heightened three-dimensional depth: stereoscopy, holography, and stereovideo were his favorite means. For example, his well-known Dalí from the Back Painting Gala from the Back Eternized by Virtual Corneas Provisionally Reflected by Six Real Mirrors (1972-1973) at the Teatro-Museo Dalí, illustrates an unusual sculptural perspective that results in binocular vision because of the optical superimposition of his two paintings. One of Dalí’s holographs of the early 1970’s, exhibited at his museum, is titled Holos! Holos! Velázquez! Gabor! It is one of the first holographic photomontages. Dalí even worked with a holograph expert, Selwyn Lissack, on this huge project.

The museum is an expression not only of the modernistic, progressive art forms and techniques to come but also of decadence. Interspersed with the radically different conceptual, environmental approach to art and the pulsating, gyrating, kinetic machines is the presence of heavy red velvet deco and pretentious Art Nouveau objects. The Teatro-Museo Dalí also exhibits heavy, gaudy jewelry pieces. Some of these move, while others are punctuated heavily with religious themes of Dalí’s own unique symbolism. Quite a few are social parodies of the decadence at the end of the previous epoch.

According to Dalí’s own Salvador Dalí: A Guide to His Works in Public Museums (1973), only the future will reveal a catalog of the important Dalís in the museum’s possession, their ultimate destinations, and how society and history will finally evaluate Dalí. Critics believe that the Dalí museum, and especially its foyer ceiling panels, will be a lasting testimony to the artist’s rare genius. Teatro-Museo Dalí[Teatro Museo Dalí]

Further Reading

  • Ades, Dawn. Dalí and Surrealism. New York: Harper & Row, 1982. An excellent text for an introduction to Dalí. Approximately two hundred pages are divided into various ideological stages of Dalí and his works. Contains 170 illustrations. Useful chronology, valuable select bibliography, list of illustrations, and index. Somewhat dated, as the text ends in the early 1950’s.
  • Dalí, Salvador. Salvador Dalí: A Guide to His Works in Public Museums. Cleveland, Ohio: Dalí Museum, 1973. A helpful tool for locating specific Dalí paintings and the details of these works in public museum collections. Photos of major masterpieces. Written in a personal tone, with relevant interjections of Dalí gossip and intimate facts.
  • Descharnes, Robert. Salvador Dalí: The Work, the Man. Translated by Eleanor R. Morse. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1984. A monumental text with more than 1,100 illustrations, with 672 plates in full color. Direct quotations and philosophical deliveries from the artist. Includes original sketches for major works and critical comments from magazines and newspapers at the time of production of various Dalí masterpieces and of major Dalí exhibitions.
  • Descharnes, Robert, and Gilles Néret. Dalí: The Paintings. London: Taschen, 2006. A thorough introduction to the artist, including details of his personal life, stylistic changes, and critical commentary on major works. Includes 199 reproductions, with fifty-two beautiful color plates. Practical select bibliography and index.
  • Livingston, Lida, ed. Dalí: A Study of His Art-in-Jewels. New York: Owen Cheatham Foundation, 1977. Filled with thirty-three gorgeous color plates of jewelry designed by Dalí and executed by Alemany and Co. of New York in collaboration with the artist. Poetic comments by Dalí on each work and a thorough descriptive index of the jewelry.
  • Lubar, Robert S. Dalí: The Salvador Dalí Museum Collection. Boston: Bulfinch Press, 2000. Based on the collection of the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Flordia. Lubar has compiled ninety-four full-color illustrations of Dalí’s popular canvases as well as earlier works from the 1920’s.

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