The Dali Museum in Montmartre: An Upgrade without Losing the Charm

The Dali Museum in Montmartre: An Upgrade without Losing the Charm
My favorite little Paris museum has undergone a metamorphosis! The experience of walking through an intimate and uncrowded museum space full of Salvador Dali’s most spectacular art is a special treat I save for myself to savor every year or two. I have adored the Dali Museum (now apparently called Dali Paris instead of Espace Dali) since I accidentally ran into it a few years ago. Where else can you be surrounded by a sculptural world that lets your inner child breathe in the stuff of dreams? A clock leaning on a dark green branch and melting away to depict the world’s impermanence (from Dalí’s dream of runny Camembert); a woman on fire with opening and closing drawers in her torso – said to be the secrets of love; an elephant bearing on his back a heavy orange obelisk, above dangerously long, spindly legs (“of desire”) depicting both weightlessness and strength; Alice in Wonderland with head and hands of roses, holding a rope aloft; the lips of Mae West as a bright red couch. I remember that first day of discovery. I had planned to escape the crowds and cameras and semi talented artists on Place du Tertre at the top of Montmarte. I wanted to head down the hill into the narrow streets once trod by the likes of Picasso and Utrillo – and this time I did not go past Maison Catherine and take the overcrowded rue Norvins but instead headed left from rue Norvins straight across the Place du Tertre, then turned right at the corner into the Place du Calvaire and passed the outdoor patio of Chez Plumeau – a restaurant that I now think of as an oasis since it appears to be a quiet place for a drink though just around the corner from the crush on Place du Tertre. Down a couple of steps from the Chez Plumeau patio and I found myself on a quiet plaza at the beginning of rue Poulbot, a red brick street with what appeared to be a small residential building on my right on which I spotted a large photograph of Salvador Dali’s face. I wandered through the door, paid an entrance fee, walked down to the lower level, and fell in love – surrounded by a wonderment of Dali sculptures and lithographs and furniture– all displayed in a small, uncrowded and welcoming venue that holds over 300 Dali works. I have returned a number of times over the years, and am sometimes surprised at finding special expositions – such as Joan Sfar’s dreamlike exhibit of cartoons surrounding the sculptures in 2016. (Note: the museum has just launched a new exhibit to commemorate the 30th year since Dali’s death. “Death and Immortality” will show the influence that Dali still has upon contemporary artists and their creative process.) But my biggest surprise was what I found during my most recent visit just a few months ago. Entering the museum, I discovered that Espace Dali had closed for four months in early 2018 and reopened in April– reborn and reinvented. As I passed the ticket takers and started down the stairs into what had always been the entirety of the museum, I discovered a small additional level just to my left with a number of surprises, including a video introducing me to Benjamino Levi, the Italian art dealer and surrealist expert whose Galleria Levi in Milan had introduced to Italy such artists as Magritte, Piccasso and Dali during the 1960s. Thereafter he founded the “Dali Universe” to curate Dali works from his vast personal collection, and, in 1991 (two years after Dali’s death), Espace Dali. Today the museum remains the only place in France where a large volume of Dali works are on permanent exhibit – particularly the artist’s most spectacular sculptures. The new room also features a chronological wall chart with the history of the collection, following the details of the Levi relationship with Dali over many years, including their important meeting in the early 1970s at the Hotel Meurice and subsequent meetings in New York and Spain and culminating with Levi becoming a muse of sorts to Dali. He spread the word throughout the art world about Dali’s sculptural works and helped Dali to recreate his paintings and prints as sculptures by commissioning bronzes. Some of the information about the Levi-Dali relationship is fascinating – including how bronze sculptural works (apparently considered a “poor relative” to the art world until well into the 1980s) were created from the Dali paintings and lithographs and marketed through their collaboration. (Notably, terrorism caused Levi to close his Milan gallery in 1974.) His descriptions of Dali’s personality and their conversations are also truly magical. For example, he describes how the “exceptionally intelligent” Dali had an “incredible unique imagination” and in conversation used original expressions “like a kaleidoscope.” Levi also gained the rights to many of the sculptural works – including the right to make authenticated copies to sell – and there is detailed information about how various versions of lithographic and sculptural works are recreated and copies made and authenticated. Until now, I had not seen information in the museum about the linkage to the Universe or to Mr. Levi. Now that information is shown via video and splashed across…

Lead photo credit : The Dali Museum in Montmartre. Photo: Michele Kurlander

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Michele is a corporate lawyer and writer who visits France often and is convinced she must have been French in an earlier life -probably hanging around with Ernest Hemingway during what she calls his "cute" stage, living on Cardinal Lemoine and writing on rue Descartes - which just happens to be be her usual stomping ground. From her first time in Paris and that first feeling of familiarity she has returned often as if it is her second home. Now the hotels are Airbnb apartments and she enjoys being a short-term local and shopping at the market, cooking her own meals. Sitting on her own Paris balcony , a wineglass or morning coffee in hand, she writes her journal, describing her walks around town as the proverbial flâneur and taking notes for the future’s stories and travel pieces.