The mayor and City Council agreed to Dali's suggestion but soon found that dealing with the most famous native son of Figueras could be a bit bizarre. Dali insisted, for example, that a promotional fiesta in honor of both him and the proposed museum feature a bullfight that would end with a helicopter lifting up the dead bull as a sacrificial tribute to "the verticality of Spain." The dumbfounded town leaders gave in to the demand but were relieved that bad weather prevented the helicopter from reaching the bullring.
Many Spanish skeptics doubted that Dali seriously intended to help create the museum. Their doubts increased when Dali proclaimed that the museum would not contain any of his original works but only photographs of them. "Photos have an advantage," he said. "They are better than the original works." After that, Mayor Guardiola wrote recently, "the general feeling was that he was crazy."
Dali talked so much about a museum of his photographed works that the Spanish government's Department of Fine Arts decided to stay as far away from the project as possible. In the end, the museum was built only because the Ministry of Housing agreed to pay for the reconstruction. Dali, however, did not hold to his threat. When the museum opened in 1974, it was full of Dali originals, including new Dalis painted on walls and ceilings.
The museum is somewhat confusing since it is not always clear what is the work of Dali and what is the work of his friends. Most visitors, for example, believe that the huge statue in front of the museum is by Dali, but it is really by Francisco Pujols. Yet there is little doubt that the museum is a surrealist's dream, a whole building fashioned to the artist's fancy. The most spectacular work is probably the room where Dali has assembled mad furniture that, when viewed through a glass hanging over a stuffed camel, turn into the features of Mae West.
In an era when Spain is proud of its democracy, Dali's old tributes to the dictator Franco sound embarrassing. He once hailed Franco for "breaking openly with false tradition, re-establishing clarity, truth and order in all the country during its moments of greatest anarchy."
But most Spaniards are not in a mood to reopen old wounds. In November, Enrique Tierno Galvan, the old Socialist who was mayor of Madrid, came to Figueras to sign an agreement with the ailing Dali to put up a monument to Dali in Madrid based on a sketch by the painter. This act by Tierno, a few weeks before his death, was looked on by most Spaniards as an act of political reconciliation with their eccentric painter.
The atmosphere within Torre Galatea cannot be a happy one. Descharnes said: "Dali keeps saying, 'I am dying.' I say, 'You have been telling me that since 1981; that is a long time.' He is concerned not so much about dying but about the process of dying."
Stanley Meisler recently reported this story in Figueras, Spain.