Today, museums and art galleries are as much about a brand as they are about the art they contain. The biggest brands, namely the Guggenheim, Tate and Louvre, have gone further than most, creating franchises, and bringing their glamour to such far flung outposts as Bilbao, St. Ives, and shortly, Abu Dhabi. The largesse of these institutions often helping to transform the prospects of the recipient locations. Iconic architecture has become the calling card of such developments, most notably in Bilbao, where Frank Gehry’s twisted titanium structure has become one of the most recognisable buildings on the planet.
Also in northern Spain, Figueres is another town which relies on an art gallery to draw in the masses. However, the Dali Museum, which I recently revisited, has been around much longer than many of its rivals, and has used branding and architecture very successfully. The melting clock and the sofa in the shape of Mae West’s lips, are as recognisable a brand as the logos of many multi-nationals, and as such appear on t-shirts, and in the form of handbags and jewellery.
The museum is housed in the town’s former theatre, a perfect backdrop for Dali’s own brand of theatrics. The building had been partly destroyed by fire during the Spanish Civil War, and lay empty for many years. His transformation of the building was way ahead of its time, and in hindsight, looks like a precursor to the postmodern movement in architecture, with its mixed references. Note the rooftop eggs, which reminded me of Farrell’s TVam studios in Camden. The playful juxtaposition of ideas and scale, prefigure the work of Philippe Starck and Nigel Coates, particularly the latter’s work in Japan in the early 90s.
The art within, is equally varied and exciting; from the well known and often reproduced surrealist paintings, to countless portraits of his wife, Gala, to exquisite bejewelled objets and vast, absurd installations, which brings us back to Mae West’s lips. Perhaps the museum’s highlight, and certainly most popular room is the one that houses not only her lips, but also all the other components of her face too.