Fantasy in Figueres – Max Widmann ’24

When I traveled to Barcelona last summer, as is the case when I visit any new city, hitting the major museums and cultural institutions was at the top of my list. While Barcelona is home to a number of fabulous museums that are dedicated to the work of a single artist–including Museu Picasso and Fundació Joan Miró–my favorite was a train ride away from the city, the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres. Described by the artist himself as a “single block, a labyrinth, a great surrealist object,” the museum presents a complete survey of Dalí’s life and work while remaining a fully immersive, outrageous, and sometimes grotesque experience. With my elementary background in art history, I came into the Dalí Theatre-Museum expecting to see things similar to “The Persistence of Memory,” the famous 1931 painting of melting clocks held by the MoMA. But I was shocked by the volume, range, and intensity of Dalí’s other works. The galleries are filled with paintings from different points in his career, commenting (sometimes controversially) on themes like politics, science, and sexuality. One of my favorite objects was a diorama of sorts, with a pointed mirror reflecting two-dimensional paintings and creating a new, blended image that changed with the viewer’s position. Sculptures blur the line between furniture and art, massive murals cover almost every ceiling, and large open spaces are filled with what are really described best as three-dimensional collages. The experience overall was extremely textural, with red velvet lining some gallery walls and each surface conveying a certain meaning, or at least feeling. The Dalí Theatre-Museum also brought my attention to the artist’s films and photographs, as well as his work as a jewelry designer. The museum’s architecture incorporates a similarly eclectic mix of styles and materials, with courtyards buttressed by a huge glass geodesic dome and Moorish walls dotted with giant eggs. Reflecting the absurdity and surrealism of the artist’s work, it’s clear that Dalí was involved in every detail of the museum’s construction. Dalí said, “The people who come to see it will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream.” I certainly did.