It's been 11 years since the idea first came up, since the first conversations between the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg and various Picasso museums in Europe.
That's how long it took to pair together "Picasso/Dali, Dali/Picasso." It's the first exhibition ever, anywhere in the world to feature the two artists.
It opened Saturday at the Dali Museum. It will stay there until Feb. 16, and then move to the Museu Picasso de Barcelona, the Dali's partner in the exhibition.
Dali and Picasso were arguably the two most famous and influential artists of the 20th century. As the exhibition shows, they were contemporaries and friends who influenced each other and perhaps even competed with each other throughout their careers.
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It seems like such a natural idea for an exhibition. It seems surprising that, until now, there would never have been a side-by-
side examination of the two artists.
William Jeffett, the chief curator of exhibitions for the Dali Museum, said there's a mindset in the art world that favors exhibitions focusing on one artist. Scholarly books have occasionally examined Dali and Picasso side-by-side.
So until 2003, nobody had really talked about this kind of exhibition.
"Plus, it's difficult to do," Jeffett said.
The exhibition has culled works from 20 different museums and collections in many countries. There's one large, striking Dali work from a monastery in Montserrat, about an hour outside of Barcelona, that has only been seen once before in the United States.
There are portraits of each artist's wives.
There are postcards that Dali sent to Picasso. He sent one a year, each bearing the same message, an inside joke about there being no frogs and no women in a certain city.
"Picasso never replied," said Dali Museum director Hank Hine. "But he kept them all, and we have them."
At the entrance to the exhibition are two stark and beautiful photographic portraits, one of each of the artists in their younger years, by the influential American artist Man Ray.
Inside are several rooms, each devoted to a different aspect of the two artists' lives and careers, from the development of surrealism to paintings they created in reaction to the Spanish Civil War. Among the Picasso works are studies for "Guernica," which, Hine points out, is perhaps the most famous painting of the 20th century.
"We're fortunate to have a lot of very strong pieces in each section," Jeffett said.
The influence the two have on each other is apparent. They sometimes painted the same subjects, their stylistic evolutions were parallel and their depiction of women changed startlingly and similarly as they each grew older.
Dali included details of Picasso's work in his own, and even put Picasso's face in some of the paintings in the exhibit. One of the most striking Dali works is one titled "A Portrait of Able Picasso in the 21st Century."
It's a beautiful, enlightening and sometimes unsettling exhibition. Dali Museum officials expect it to set attendance records. Visitors will buy tickets for a specific time, to keep crowds limited and flowing.
Audio tours and docent lectures are available, but Jeffett said the exhibition can stand without that kind of external explanation.
"Some people like the audio tours, some people don't," Jeffett said. "I think we've arranged it so that it makes its points viscerally. People will intuitively be able to understand what we're saying."
Details: Through Feb. 16, Dali Museum, 1 Dali Blvd., St. Petersburg. Museum hours: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Wednesday and Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday, noon-5:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $24 general, $22 seniors, military, police, firefighters; $17 teens 13-17 and college students with ID, $10 children 6-12, free for children younger than 6. Information: 727-823-3767, thedali.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.