Lockdown Escapism: Experiencing Multiple Realities in the Dalí Theatre-Museum

Anamaria Koeva 9 February 2021

Instagram tells me I once had an exciting life. As I flick through my own profile, heaving sighs of disbelief, I reminisce about my Covid-free travels to the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres.

My life-long fascination with surrealism stems from childhood, when Mum and Dad, both artists, left a Taschen album of Dalí in my room. Not surprisingly, fifteen years later, very few of the buildings I created during my architecture degree were designed for our reality. That’s the Dalí Theatre-Museum indulged my love of subverting the dimensions of consciousness, bringing the sub to the fore and playing with what reality could be – a transferable skill which proves to be essential during lockdown. Here are some of my surreal highlights.

Dalí is the kind of eccentric artist who would define the beauty of architecture as “edible”. Once you know that, the facades of the museum, topped with giant eggs and embellished with neatly spaced loaves of bread, make sense. Upon entry, you find yourself in a large courtyard, filled with greenery and guarded with grotesque monsters which were created in collaboration with the painter Antoni Pitxot. Central to the space is the Rainy Taxi – a Cadillac, once owned by Dalí himself, and now inhabited by wax-made human-sized passengers. You can drop a coin to soak them in rain.

Continuing forward, you find yourself “on the stage” of the museum. If you stand on the white slab in its center, you might feel the theatrical presence of Dalí – he is buried underneath, never having ended the performance of his life. Above you is the metal sky of the geodesic dome, designed by Emilio Perez Piñero. Dalí said that it was created to resemble a fly’s eye, because, like surrealist visionaries, flies can see multiple realities.

In this place, you can, too. Looking up to the second floor corridor, you spot at least two of them coexisting on the same canvas. At first you recognise Gala’s naked back, but when you squint your eyes, before you is a portrait of Abraham Lincoln – a visual play with pixels, bearing the signature of the painter and a prolix title: Gala Nude Looking at the Sea Which at 18 Metres Appears the President Lincoln (Homage to Rothko), 1975. The level of control Dalí wishes to attribute to his paranoid-critical reading of his own subconscious is astoundingly resolute. He is not the type of artist who would wish you to read yourself into his work. On the contrary, what you see only makes sense in what he calls ‘Dalívision’. Therefore, for the span of your visit, you need to adopt Dalívision as your own reality. Just like upon entering any other theatrical area, here, too, you agree to suspend your disbelief.

Salvador Dalí still remains one of my artistic idols, combining talent, hard work, precision, innovation, and vision.

In Room 19 and the Loggia, you are presented with another invitation to purposefully bend your own senses. There you literally see Dalí’s world through a prism. In the 1970s he experimented with stereoscopy, a phenomenon which allows the artist to paint the third dimension by adding depth to the image. It achieves this effect by joining two almost identical symmetrical images with varying shades of colour and tone. With the help of a set of mirrors, the viewer perceives a virtual image, as if it is projected straight into their mind. Dalí used this method to escape the restrictions of the visual order and communicate with his audience in a different language of perception.

Other similar approaches in Dalí’s art include anamorphosis, a distorted drawing which has to be seen under particular conditions, and holography. These works are playful at first sight, yet deeply rooted in the ongoing development of science, with a conception which instils a sense of constant human metamorphosis. Some examples include the the hologram First Cylindric Chromo-Hologram Portrait of Alice Cooper’s Brain, 1973; the stereoscopic The Structure of DNA, 1975; and the designated Mae West room.

Having entered the Jewelry Treasure room – another challenge to your senses – you find yourself inside a magnificent jewelry box of thirty-nine pieces of gold and precious stones. Dalí wanted them to be executed brilliantly, yet to serve no other purpose but that of beauty. Gently rotating in their vaults, inhaling and exhaling, The Falling Angel and The Psychedelic Flower are waiting for you to recognise their immortality. “In jewels, as in my art, I create what I love. In some you will note an architectonic sense – as you will in certain of my paintings; again logarithmic law is evident; again the interrelation of spirit and matter; of time and space,” Dalí whispers to you through the red velvet walls.

To this day, Salvador Dalí still remains one of my artistic idols, combining talent, hard work, precision, innovation, and vision. Nowadays, we can turn our phones into holographic projectors, explore different dimensions via virtual reality, or just stream a movie. Yet, even with all available lockdown distractions bombarding my senses, his immense artistic output remains my number one escapist route during lockdown 3.0, and I highly recommend you revisit too [1].

[1] https://my.matterport.com/show-mds?m=K5MKrKcfyRW – a digital tour to the Theatre-Museum