On the waterfront of Tampa Bay, the Avant-garden creates a unique environment of learning and tranquility. The Mathematical Garden allows students to experience the relationship between math and nature, and a labyrinth in the southeast corner invites exploration and well-being.
The Dalí Museum Avant-garden was inspired both by our local flora and by Dalí’s fascination with duality, art and nature, the Apollonian and the Dionysian. The garden was encouraged by then treasurer of the Dalí Museum, William Hough and individual donors. The garden was elaborated with the help of Michael Van Valkenberg, landscape architects Graham-Booth, Yann Weymouth, and the Dalí staff. They have come into their beautiful fullness thanks to the green thumbs of Security Director Dave Portilia, Gustavo Vargas and Nicole Matwijczyk.
The West Garden
Along the west side of the building, concrete paving, a split stone staircase, bushes and flowering plants define the passenger drop-off and access to the Museum. Pineland acacia, verbina glandularia, and wild petunias, adorn the entry path and attract butterflies, dear to Dalí as transformative creatures.
Florida was given its name by its early Spanish explorers and means “flowered.” The cantilevered entry to the building is indeed full of flowers. Crossing the little bridge over the pond that collects from the dripping and immense stone supporting this corner of the building, one can feel the transformation of which water is the symbol. You enter here a different world, to a degree washed of your past.
The Grotto at The Dalí is a place of cavernous shade, fabulous plants, dripping and pooling water. The world of the Grotto is one of dampness, fertility, and growth. Water splashes, reflected light from the pond plays on the ceiling, a breeze blows through. The living wall rises on your right. Orchids – Vandas, Phalaenopsis, Oncidium Dendrobiu, Catteya – grow from their blanket of Sphagnum Moss. Peperomias and ferns – Sword, Woodardica Birginica, Green Fantasy and Peacock Fern – provide a modulated base pallet of green to the living wall.
This green wall is irrigated and self-sustaining, and what is usually flat and earthbound stands up vertically. Here the bromeliads create arcs of different greens, light and dark, like ripples in a pond, setting off the brilliant pinks and purples of the orchids and the dashes of red bromeliads, radiant as stars: Kapoho Fire, Tutti Fruti, Red Embers, Imperfecta – names Dalí would have loved. The vast panel of living plants is similar in size, color and internal shapes to Monet’s paintings of water lilies. Here nature imitates art, both alive, both urging us to pleasure and discovery. This is a place of a different order, the green wall tells us: be ready for reversals of expectation.
And yet it is a calm place, a place for reflection. One can sit on one of the numerous benches carved from limestone and named for donors to The Dalí.
Fountain of Youth
Walking through the grotto to the north face of the great stone you see air plants that take all their nutrients from the air and occasional rain. There at waist level is a spigot. Place your hand under it and out pours water from the fountain of youth. Nearby a plaque reads:
“Under this ground are pooled the legendary waters of St. Petersburg’s Fountain of Youth. Ponce de Leon searched for these waters in the 16th century as the Old World looked to the New World for replenishment. Inspired by this legend, St. Petersburg’s great benefactor, Edwin H. Tomlinson, tapped into this sulfurous spring in 1900.”
Similarly, Salvador Dalí tried to replenish the World of Art as he thought art had lost its vitality. Considering himself an explorer and a savior of modern art, he sought to restore art’s vigor through his use of dreamlike images and realistic representation.
Dalí was born and lived much of his life on the Costa Brava. As the name “Fierce Coast” implies, Dalí’s homeland is rocky and severe. It is swept by a wind called the Tramontana which blows south from the Pyrenees. Wind and rain have scoured the land and sculpted the metamorphic rocks into eccentric shapes.
These stones are so central to Dalí’s work that we have made them an important element of our garden. One of these rocks, a solitary boulder of metamorphic pegmatite, was gifted to the Museum by the Mayor and the people of Cadaqués, Spain and is placed in central position in the East Garden.
Math in the Avant-garden
Salvador Dalí was fascinated by the way mathematics reveals a hidden order in the world. As essential part of classical art education is the study of proportion. Dalí had this education as did the master artists of the Renaissance. Even today many artists and architects work in reference to the proportions that were observed and mathematically calibrated in antiquity.
There is an uncanny correspondence between what we perceive intuitively and what conforms with mathematical principles. One proportion in particular has been so highly valued that it is called the golden ratio. A dramatic demonstration of this proportion is to be found in the pavers on the patio of the East Garden directly under the Enigma’s Bay Vista. A large rectangle is formed by pavers of several hues, approximately 20 by 32 feet. A unique feature of this shape is that when a square section is removed, the remainder is another gold rectangle. At each intersection of the spiral and the square we have inscribed one of the numbers of Fibonacci sequence.
Mediterranean and tropical, olive and ficus in the Avant-garden
Dalí is a landscape painter. The garden diagrams the formal order to be found in both the landscape and in art. Thus it formalizes and extends the structures found in the paintings. The garden is oriented to Dalí’s sensibility – one of contrasts. Dalí spoke of “le dur et le mou,” the hard and the soft, and our garden caries from hardscape to turf, from Italian cypress to soft fern. There is also a play between Mediterranean plants and the subtropical plants of Florida. Lilies, juniper, papyrus and thyme from the old world grow among wild petunia, sunshine mimosa, wild violets and sabal palm, native to Florida. The drooping ficus stands near the old-world olive.
The Wish Tree in the Avant-garden
The ficus with its compound trunk, its drooping branches, appears a tree designed by Dalí, a botanical equivalent of Dalí’s soft watches, a melting tree. It embodies the transformation Dalí’s works speak of. If this tree could be Dalí’s wish, it equally can carry our wishes. Streaming ribbons and strings, this ficus is used by our visitors as a Wish Tree. The tradition of the Wish Tree extends back to ancient Scottish rites. The tree is the vertical axis connecting heaven and earth, the axis mundi. It is logical that a museum, a place full of ideas and images, would incite expressions of our hopes. It feels natural to come to such a tree to whisper a wish. Onto the branches of our Wish Tree are tied scraps of paper bearing the hopes of our visitors, simple and heartfelt. The Wish Tree was dedicated by our Mayor with a wish for an undivided city.
The Labyrinth in the Avant-garden
Just southeast beyond the ficus is a gate that, sliding between two stones, provides the entrance to the Labyrinth. On the gate is diagrammed the layout of the Labyrinth. The path of crushed limestone leads through the course of podocarpus hedges that curve and and angle abruptly. The path leads to the center of the Labyrinth, which is marked by the tallest cypress tree on the Museum grounds. The cypress is a symbol of welcoming in Mediterranean cultures as its regular planting demonstrates a human intent. The Labyrinth’s design is derived from the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral: one enters heading toward the center and then is abruptly led to the right and then around each quadrant of the labyrinthe circle before arriving at the center.
Happily, there are no wrong turns in this Labyrinth. It is not a maze; it is unicursal, going only one way. A maze has dead ends, wrong turns, deceptive courses and frustrations. But entering this labyrinth you have only to follow the course under your feet, and by simple persistence you arrive at the center. The Labyrinth is an Apollonian contrast to the Grotto. Here the light of the mind imposes itself in its geometric perfection on the wild growth of the podocarpus, creating a rationalized model of the world. It also proposes our place in it.