Going into my recent trip to Paris, I knew some of the things I wanted to do while we were there, but not all. I definitely wanted to get to Versailles and the brand spanking new Atelier des Lumieres museum (which is one of the COOLEST things I have EVER seen), but other days were freer. On the first and last full days, we were meeting up with family members who had a long layover on their way back from India, but had to leave for the airport again around 1pm.
So, I took a gander at the map for inspiration. When I saw there was a Dali museum in town, I knew it was the perfect way to beat the heat and see some works by one of my absolute favorite artists of all time. What I couldn’t tell from looking at the 2D map was that I chose a destination on the tippy top of Montmarte and all 130 meters (.8 mi) of its glory. We should have realized what we’d gotten into when we arrived at the metro station and a sign warned of the impending 142 steps just to reach the surface. We took the elevator to save our strength for the many more stairs to come and prayed the museum had air-conditioning. (And thankfully, it did!)
Visiting the Dali Museum
While living abroad for a semester in Barcelona, I took a fantastic class called Picasso, Dali, and Miro. It focused on these three incredible Spanish artists and included a field trip out to the Dali museum in Figueres near where he grew up. The artist himself designed many of the displays, and if you’re familiar with Dali, you can imagine it bore a striking resemblance to an acid trip for just that reason. But where that museum was centered on colossal paintings, the museum in Paris centers on one particular gallery owner who pushed Dali to create sculptures as well as paintings and drawings. It was incredible to see so many of the same subjects rendered in such different media! Here are some highlights.
Tips for your Visit
- Admission is 12 euros and includes both the permanent exhibit and the gallery with many full-scale works for sale that are based on Dali’s originals and just as stunning as the collection.
- On your way down, don’t miss the small room on your left. It has a timeline and explanation for the role the gallery owner Beniamino Levi played in Dali’s career, as well as how gallery owners in his day had a hand in shaping the modern art history canon we now study.
- Read the labels. Even if you think you know what the symbolism means because you’ve studied Dali’s work, the labels are full of great anecdotes. My favorite was that in the original of one of the first pieces you see, it had real corn ears hung around the statue’s neck. But after Picasso’s dog stole and ate them, Dali replaced them with plastic replicas instead. Who knew?
- If you aren’t familiar with Dali’s wacky visual metaphors, don’t fret! In the middle of the museum there is a nice display mounted on a column that gives a short explanation of why he was so obsessed with melting clocks, spindle-legged elephants, eggs, and ants. It really enhances the experience of seeing so many of his works all in the same place to see how these objects repeat and play off one another.
- Once you emerge, head to your left. There’s a delightful café with a ceiling of vines and delicious spicy olives in store if you stop and have a drink. An Aperol Spritz (or two) was precisely what the doctor ordered after a long, hot day, and there’s were bigger than many cafes serve.
- They have a small monitor playing Destino, the short film created by Dali and…wait for it…Walt Disney! The pair began it back in the 1940’s, but it wasn’t finished until 2003 when it was nominated for an Oscar. You can watch it now, though!
As I said, the Mister and I weren’t being very good tourists at this point. But once we realized how close we were to the famous basilica and the famous view of the City of Lights, we knew we weren’t going to waste that epic trek up the mountain without at least seeing the outside. The vibe up on Montmartre is totally different than any other part of Paris. The streets are cobbled and too small to allow much in the way of car traffic most places. Around each bend, we found street musicians and happy throngs of people getting their evening underway. After we were done at the top and meandered down the (you guessed it) stairs to the bottom, that area reminded me a lot of New Orleans.
It was too late in the day to get inside Sacre-Coeur itself, which was just as well because the small square was insanely crowded. It was by far the busiest place we visited the whole trip besides the mirrored corridor in Versailles. You could barely move an inch without dodging a selfie stick or being in the way of someone’s photo. Not that I can blame people, the building and view were incredible.
Tune in next week for pics and tips about my next Paris destination, the Botanic Garden and Museum of Evolution.