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Getaways: Revisiting Dali . . . and Tiffany

Dali Museum helix
Galleries wind sensually around spiraling stairs that echo Dali's fascination with the discovery of the double helix. [Photo: Scott Keeler/St. Petersburg Times]
On St. Petersburg's waterfront, a massive four-story cube balances on a single pear-shaped boulder, all of its weight bearing down on a narrow point of rock. The combination of stark geometry and the organic roughness of natural stone is surreal — like distant barren landscapes by Salvador Dalí.

Just the point. This is the portal into a dramatic new museum that houses more than 90 of Dalí's flamboyant works that change with your perspective — as does the new museum itself. From the waterside, the cube is gripped and groped by a glass worm, made of more than 900 geodesic panels that reflect Dalí's wild imagination and his fascination with the modern science.

The new Dalí museum opened in January with a month of celebrations, including a royal salute from Princess Cristina of Spain. It is one of two major building projects that give world-famous artists bigger homes in Florida this winter. The other is the new wing of the Morse Museum in Winter Park, which opened last month. It houses a collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany masterpieces.

The Dalí landed in Florida in 1982 after St. Petersburg offered a showcase for the then-homeless collection of Cleveland collectors A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse. The Morses bought their first Dalí, "Daddy Longlegs of the Evening, Hope!" with its drooping airplane, dancing horse and weeping angel, in 1943; they became friends, patrons and translators of the artist and one of his biggest collectors.

Today, the collection amounts to 96 oils, from his earliest formative portraits to his most provocative studies where bodies and watches twist and melt, and Venus de Milo, Voltaire and Lincoln appear, morph and disappear. The new museum is large enough to display the entire collection.

Dalí gets increasing attention both from the art world that once disdained him as a showman, as well as from a public who regard his wild imagination as defining modern art. To fellow artists, Dalí pioneered a mad mix of media, from film to fashion — and lobster telephones.

"It is his technical skill that arrests you," says museum director Hank Hine. "The fine brush work, the incredible modulation of light and color, the persistent whimsy and surprise, these are things that do not reveal themselves by viewing a few images on posters or in a textbook.'' Dalí used baroque painting talent to illustrate the most avant-garde images.

With so much to contemplate, it's delightful that the museum also provides relaxing views of the bay through the kaleidoscopic glass and a restful grotto fed by water springing surreally from that same miraculous boulder at the door.

Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus
Dalí's 14-foot-high "Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus" [Photo: The Dali Museum]

... And Tiffany

Hanging globe
Hanging globe, c. 1904-10, brown glass, millefiori [Photo: The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art]
In Winter Park, the Morse Museum is a jewel box of an adult attraction on the quiet end of Park Avenue, light years from Disney World.

The original building is vault-like and should be; the thick walls provide dark and cool spaces to be illuminated by Tiffany's gleaming glass and glittering mosaics.

The dragonfly lamps are here, far more beautiful than his imitators, yet they pale in comparison to the colors and skill in his windows, pottery, jewelry or his first love, painting and photos. Tiffany was fascinated by natural asymmetry in the stained glass and in his garden themes, but it's easy and surprising to see influences of Japanese woodcuts, exotic Persia as well as the Arts and Crafts Movement and later Art Nouveau.

"His work was far more than art that lights up,'' says director Laurence Ruggiero. Tiffany shared the passion for beauty that animated Proust, Klimt and other artists in the ferment of the very young 20th century, and he expressed it in many forms.

The museum's new wing recaptures the varied works of Laurelton Hall, the monumental rococo estate that Tiffany built on Long Island as a home museum and artist colony. When it burned down in 1957, Hugh and Jeannette McKean of Winter Park rescued the most salvageable pieces and brought them to Winter Park.

Among them was a small ornate chapel of Byzantine glass and tile Tiffany had designed for the 1893 fair in Chicago, later installed in a New York church, then his home and now in the Morse.

"Spring" from Tiffany's "Four Seasons" window, c. 1899-1900 [Photo: The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art ]
In the past 10 years, crews of curators, conservators, ironworkers and marble workers have restored much of the dining room, fireplace, rugs, lamps and most magnificently Laurelton's "Daffodil Terrace" (first exhibited by the Morse in the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 2006).

Ruggiero hopes that the Laurelton collection demonstrates that Tiffany unified art, craft and life in his home in an expression of beauty that fulfilled the spirit.

Both the Dali and the Morse make charming, intriguing destinations for weekend trips and, thanks to remarkably diligent patrons, safe places where the precious works of two very different 20th century masters can live on.