“At the age of six, I wanted to be a cook. At seven, I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.”
So said Salvador Dalí (1904-89), who, it’s fair to say, conquered Philadelphia. Earlier this year, the Philadelphia Museum of Art hosted the first retrospective of the artist’s paintings, drawings and sculptures in the United States in more than 60 years. The museum was its only North American venue, and it extended the original run by two weeks. Salvador Dalí reexamined the Surrealist artist’s place in 20th-century art with more than 200 works of art on loan from public and private collections in 15 countries.
More than 370,000 people came, the museum’s third most-attended special exhibition ever (a Cézanne show in 1996 drew 548,000 visitors, and a 1995 exhibition of paintings from the Barnes Foundation attracted 477,012 to the museum). The ranking, however, is deceptive. Differences in the size and scale of Dalí, and the gallery layout, reduced the numbers the museum could allow to enter, as did the time needed to really absorb it all: The average visitor spent two hours in Dalí, significantly longer than usual.
The New York Times called the comprehensive exhibition “a visual and psychic marathon.”
Some measurements of its impact: More than 20,000 high-school and college students attended, many in tours from area schools and many for their first visit to the museum. Museum membership reached an all time high of 58,000 households. And www.philamuseum.org received some 2.24 million visits. The exhibition, commissioned by the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation in Figueres, Spain, where he was born and is buried, was supported in part by the Trusts.