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St Petersburg Clearwater, FL

A Surreal GiftBy Maria White

When A. Reynolds Morse and Eleanor Reese married in 1942, they treated themselves to a unique wedding present: a painting by surrealist Salvador Dalí titled “Daddy Longlegs of the Evening-Hope!” The pair quickly became avid Dalí collectors, and, as a result, developed a close friendship with the eccentric artist and his capricious wife and muse, Gala.

But, by 1965 it was clear the Morses' modest Cleveland, Ohio, residence could no longer accommodate their massive collection of oil canvases, drawings, watercolors, prints and objets d'art. Though Dalí suggested his longtime patrons build a museum with “walls that breathe and pulse imperceptibly, moved by a pneumatic apparatus” in New York, the couple instead chose to display the artworks in a wing of the Injection Molders Supply Co., a business Mr. Morse founded in 1949 in Beachwood, Ohio. Less than a decade later, the collection again required a less-cramped address, and a nationwide search for a new destination began.

Intrigued by an article in The Wall Street Journal describing the Morses' endeavors, a St. Petersburg attorney convinced local leaders their city's future lay in the surrealistic bequest of a conservative Ohio couple and an over-the-top artistic genius who occasionally likened himself to a madman. In 1982 the idea of a St. Petersburg-based Dalí Museum became reality when the Morses donated their beloved Dalís—altogether comprising the world's most comprehensive private collection of the Spanish artist's works—to Florida's Sunshine City.

During its opening year, nearly 60,000 people flocked to the former marine equipment warehouse on Third Street South chosen by Mr. Morse for the site of the new museum. Welcoming more than 200,000 culture seekers, struggling painters, schoolchildren and unapologetic, outré personalities annually, the abode sheltering the Morses' multifaceted (and by now, well-supplemented) gift served its purpose and the community admirably for nearly 3 decades. In the colorful, spacious gallery space, art lovers pored over Dalí self-portraits, reimagined Mediterranean landscapes, and masterpieces pithily expressing the flamboyant artist's belief that “one thing the world will never have enough of is the outrageous.”

Boosting fascination with the unforgettable, curly-mustached man who passed away in 1989 was the collection's move in 2011 to a whimsical showplace overlooking Tampa Bay. Double the size of the first St. Petersburg site, The Dalí Museum 's imaginative waterfront structure allows for more of the absurd, the grotesque and the titillating— Dalí specialties—to be exhibited year-round. While such impressive architectural details as a spiral staircase resembling a DNA strand wows visitors, it's safe to assume Dalí, were he still around, would have something to say about the building's inexplicable inability to respire.

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St Petersburg Clearwater, FL

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