“A building is an incitement to action, a stage for movement and interaction.” (Yudell, 59) In the battle between Dali vs TMoA, Dali wins by a knockout in the first round.
From the moment you turn onto Bay Shore Drive from Central Ave, the main thoroughfare of the downtown/parks area of St. Petersburg, you are immediately drawn to the structure of the Dali museum. The enigma peaking its head out, perfectly wrapping around the glass gallery of the Mahaffey Theater, appearing as one. The 5 block precession gives you changing views of the enigma, eventually exposing itself as well as the concrete box it emerges from. The path eventually leads you around the entire structure before even beginning your pedestrian adventure. Their juxtaposition, the light, ethereal glass and the heavy, earth anchoring concrete, only further excites ones curiosity to discover what is housed within.
You are drawn into the building through what seems to be a cave like grotto, the only piece excavated from the massive concrete structure. Immediately you are drawn from the dark, compressed entrance into the heart of the building, opening up to the spiral/helix staircase thrusting itself upward to the open sky above. “The spiral, the most spatially complex configuration for body movement,” draws you up to the gallery level, with a break in pacing half way up the structure, granting a number of views of the entire enigma allowing light to penetrate deep into the vault like structure, (Yudell, 66). Once you have reached the gallery level you are left with three options, a smaller gallery to the right, the main works gallery to the left, and a viewing platform overlooking Tampa Bay as well as a number of landscape features relating back to the art of Dali.
Upon entering the main gallery, the paintings themselves entice you through the space. The early work, somewhat secluded from the surrealist collection, guides you through to the first of the larger pieces tying his early childhood and his eventual surrealist stylings together. From here the smaller collection is broken up with moments allowing you to view the larger pieces, the finally of the collection and the end of the precession, from afar, pulling you towards the inevitable climax.
Upon parking in a traditional parking garage, albeit the only garage I’ve ever seen with a spiral staircase providing little more interest than a speedy handrail ride, and a short walk around a somewhat offensive structure housing the Glazer Children’s Museum, you come across a seemingly floating nondescript metal box. Situated between the previously mentioned parking garage and Children’s Museum, the structure is also flanked by Curtis Hixon Park to the South and the Hillsborough River to the West.
Before I begin to talk about the Museum itself I should probably back step a bit and mention that even though the site is located in the heart of downtown Tampa, there is virtually no signage or structural indication that the Museum even exists. Hidden behind the parking garage and Children’s Museum the only chance you have of stumbling upon the structure is a brief moment while traveling north on Ashley Dr, and even then, the orientation of the building, stark facade, and street side landscaping, mostly trees, make it an almost impossible find.
Once on the site there is a interesting juxtaposition of the cold structure with the warm inviting park. Their relationship is heightened by the 40’ cantilever that seems to hover over the park, but once again this only favors the park. “The museum is a neutral from for the display of art, an empty canvass to be filled with paintings” according to the architect, but unfortunately this does not incite any emotion or desire to enter the structure. While at the Dali a grotto is used to pull us into the dark cavernous entrance, there is nothing of this sort directing me anywhere within the structures massive, dimly lit, cold, and somewhat uncomfortable cantilevers.
Eventually, guided by the only sign of life, a few tables used for the cafe, and entering through a single glass door, I find myself only further disappointed. There is absolutely no release from the stark, cold, uncomfortable exterior into the lobby. The perforated brushed metal carries through as does the lack of precession. An interesting note: our tour guide mentioned that people are often aggravated by the time the find the ticket counter. They haven’t even seen the art yet! If that isn’t a sign of a building failing to operate I don’t know what is. A single, somewhat typical stair sits in the middle of the desolate cube leading you towards a rather uninviting opening, looking more like the result of a lack of material than a passageway. Why on earth would I want to go up there? I’m uncomfortable enough as it is and I can still see daylight.
Pushing through against my better judgement, and ascending the staircase I found myself with doubts on which direction I should move in as there was no suggestion of circulation whatsoever, surprise, surprise! Before making my decision I noticed the acoustics in the space allowed for three of the pieces in the modern gallery to be heard, very loudly might I add, throughout the entire space. Nothing enhances the viewing of a 3000 year old piece of pottery like the nondescript ramblings of a video installation, the incessant rumblings of a storming window, and the erratic clanking of an interactive trash sculpture from across the 7500+ sq ft space.
Taking a ride down the back-of-house elevator, “cleverly” color coded, neon green, I immediately noticed a slight pain in my eyes and a number of people I was with complained of seeing everything slightly red after departing. I was told the orange public elevator had a similar effect. The two lifts supplied the only color in the building as designed by the architect.
Only after being told there was an exterior sculpture garden, did I return to discover its existence. Perhaps it was just the joy of not feeling trapped in an extremely uncomfortable space and actually seeing the sun again, but this was the only space within the structure that I actually enjoyed. Overlooking the old Cass St drawbridge the space was calm and comfortable, yet I could not tell you what sculptures were located here. Was this the release that I was looking for upon entering the lobby? If so this goes against everything the architect (note the lower case ‘a’) envisioned for the building, attempting to make it about the art, not the structure itself.
In the end the structure it self was the focus, clearly in a negative manner, and the art only at times assisted in making the experience more uncomfortable and awkward, all building to a Le Corbusian climax, the window frame of nature, granted much less successful as the climax in this case is the escape of the negative, rather than the building of positives.
I think it goes without saying that the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg is hands down a more cleverly thought about space and will likely become a landmark of the Tampa Bay area, while the Tampa Museum of Art is a let down to say the least.
TMoA features traveling shows and should encourage people to come back repeatedly, and even gather there on a regular occasion. However the feeling that the space and structure create, not to mention the rather small and overpriced cafe, doesn’t encourage this. I would even go as far as saying the space encourages people to leave as soon as they’ve completed their journey, rather than enjoying a bit to eat or a cup of coffee overlooking the river. Dali on the other hand, an internationally known artist that in no way needs the ability to support community congregation, has immense public space both inside and out. The cafe is comfortable to sit and socialize in as a museum attendee or not, and the ample park space included in its planning only adds to this. It is even encouraged that the community use the space for just this. You can easily spend a day on the Dali campus which only adds to the appeal of the already impressive collection housed there.