A surreal scavenger hunt at the Dalí Museum

Visiting an art museum may not be at the top of your “to do” list if you’re a four-year-old. But when a docent at the newly-opened Dalí Museum in St. Peterburg, Florida, invited my three kids — ages 4, 6, and 8 — to participate in a scavenger hunt on a recent Sunday afternoon, their expressions quickly shifted from boredom to anticipation.

A scavenger hunt? They nodded their heads enthusiastically.

On the outside, the new museum — referred to as the “Glass Enigma” — doesn’t seem like a kid-friendly place. It is imposing, asymmetrical and, true to the great surrealist, a little strange.

But Dalí wasn’t all he appeared to be, and neither is the museum that bears his name: He loved puzzles and games, and if he were alive today, would have probably joined in the scavenger hunt with the kids.

The premise of the hunt is to test your problem-solving skills by matching riddles with the correct Dali masterpieces. Every child is issued a brochure with clues and pictures of the works.

The art, which is displayed on the third-floor gallery, is accessed by a spiral staircase that ascends through the middle of a light-filled atrium and then ends in a concrete curl just before the glass ceiling. The building is a work of art in itself.

The new museum is considerably larger than the one it replaced, and includes a café, theater, classroom, and student gallery. So finding the sculptures and paintings, which would have been a cinch at the old museum, isn’t as easy as you’d think.

It’s interesting to watch young children near Dali’s work. They connect easily with it, perhaps because the artist’s grip on reality was fragile and almost child-like. Perspectives are warped; zoo animals appear at random; faces materialize in the clouds. Up is down.

Salvatore Dali's sculpture Nieuw Amsterdam (1974)OK, art lovers, can you match these riddles to the right work?

1. Painting a bust is not a crime; artists do this all the time. Lo and behold he has purple hair and glued to his cheeks are two funny chairs.

2. Surreal, surreal, that’s what it’s called, placing odd things together – what a ball! Telephone and shellfish don’t seem to fit but with them, Dalí really made a hit.

3. Face the dots and you will see how my dead brother looms over me.

I won’t keep you in suspense. Here are the answers:

1. Nieuw Amsterdam (1974)
2. Lobster Phone (1936)
3. Portrait of My Dead Brother (1963)

I’ve posted photos of the works in this article, too.

“I like the lobster phone the best,” said my eight-year-old son, Aren, after he’d solved the last riddle (with a little help from his mother). “It would be nice to look at, but I wouldn’t want to use it as a real phone. Who would put a lobster in their ear?”

True.

My two youngest kids were drawn to a 1976 work called “Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,” which, as the title suggests, is a portrait of Abraham Lincoln that can be seen only from a distance.

“Do you see the man with the beard?” I asked.

“Abraham Lincoln!” exclaimed Iden, our kindergartener.

Salvatore Dali's sculpture Lobster Phone (1936)Come to think of it, I would participate in the scavenger hunt even if I didn’t have kids. It allows you to not only contemplate Dalí art in an engaging way, but also ensures you won’t miss anything important. Plus, the riddles are fun.

The brochure also had a few museum rules, including “Talk in a whisper, don’t run, and do not use the wall as a writing surface.”

I’m happy to report that my kids didn’t write on the wall.

The other rules? We’re still working on those.