The Museum of Monterey is about to become home to the largest collection of works by Salvador Dalí on the West Coast, thanks to the arrival of 543 original etchings, lithographs, sculptures and tapestries by the Spanish surrealist artist. The collection will join the Aquarium and the Jazz Festival as one of Monterey’s major tourist draws.
It’s not as bizarre an idea as you might think. Dalí lived in Monterey off and on for seven years in the 1940s. The artist was a regular at the city’s famous Hotel Del Monte, the historic starting point for the 17-mile drive.
Watch Paramount Pictures' coverage of a surrealist fundraiser Dalí threw for European artists displaced by World War II in 1941.
Stars like Bob Hope, Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, and Alfred Hitchcock reportedly attended, too. Dalí was not above fraternizing with local artists, though. He was an early member of the Carmel Art Association, actively participating in the group's activities when he wasn't in New York or Hollywood.
Last year, the Monterey History and Art Association went looking for a fresh focus for the Museum of Monterey. Since its start in 1992, the institution, which doesn't charge admission, has attracted fewer than 25,000 visitors a year and has failed to break even.
Highlighting local history is part of the organization’s mission. So after a call went out for fresh ideas, board members were excited to hear from a local businessman keen to share his Dalí collection with the public –- a collection unmatched by anything outside Europe or The Dalí Museum in Florida.
Nuts for Dalí
Dmitry Piterman maintains homes in Oakland and Pebble Beach, and he's mad for Dalí. After earning a track scholarship to UC Berkeley, Piterman competed in the US Olympic trials for the 1992 games in Barcelona. He failed to qualify. But as a result of his visit to Spain, Piterman discovered Dalí. As Piterman's career in real estate blossomed over the years, he plowed a fair bit of his spare income into Dalí's art work.
Piterman has exhibited his collection before in Spain and Belgium. Now he'll get to have a strong hand in the day-to-day management of the exhibition space in Monterey, and at a museum that is putting his collection front and center.
Association president Larry Chavez says he hopes to add to the collection from the museum’s own archives as well as from future purchases Piterman might make and from other Dalí art collectors.
The Fate of the Existing Collection
What's going to happen to the existing collection? Work that was on loan is going back to its original owners. Much of it is headed to the San Francisco Maritime Museum. Local outfits like the Monterey Public Library and the Defense Language Institute will house other materials. Chavez adds there will also be a small exhibit of non-Dalí items at the museum and/or another location nearby.
Monterey County vigorously celebrates writers who've spent time in the region, including John Steinbeck, Robert Louis Stevenson, Robinson Jeffers, Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac. Dalí's connection to the city is much less well known.
"Dalí, with his extravagance and with his out of the box thinking, probably chose Monterey because he found this a little haven for himself," says Chavez.
The new Dalí museum will open in May, just in time for the summer tourist season.
Dalí on What’s My Line