Dalí retrospective @ Centre Pompidou

The  Centre Pompidou in Paris is currently hosting the biggest retrospective of Salvator Dalí in more then thirty years. Being a fan of surrealism I wanted to visit this exhibition from the moment I learned it existed. Time constraints made picking out a date quite the challenge, but on the 9th of February it  finally happened: I saw Dalí’s artworks, twice!

The concept was simple: drive to Paris for a day and enjoy this rare opportunity to see great works of art, that are normally spread across the globe, together. The day before I looked on the internet for a parking space not to far from the museum and on Parkings de Paris  I reserved a space in the underground parking of Forum des Halles, 500 meters away from the museum: 19 Euro for 24 hours: sounds like a good deal to me! For a short while I was in doubt whether or not to buy tickets for the retrospective online. The tickets would give me priority access, but a friend of mine who visited the exhibition recently told me that the line for the cash registry was actually shorter, and on line a ticket would cost me 13 Euro but since I’m still under 26 I may enter the museum for free. Tossed a coin, mentally, and bought tickets: 13 Euro is not that much and it’s for a good cause. Am I now a patron of the arts? No, probably not.

Me and a friend, Dimitri, set out for Paris around six in the morning and after a four hour drive through a snow covered landscape on near deserted motorways we entered the city of Paris. It was my first time driving a car in France’s capital and I had expected a stressful chaos. But on this Saturday morning there weren’t too many cars and we drove through the city towards the Forum des Halles like a hot knife through butter. We spiralled down the underground parking until we reached the boom barrier at level -3. We possessed a voucher for a parking space but didn’t see how to explain this to the boom gate. I pushed a button, out came a ticket and open went the boom barrier. After a few meters in the garage we were greeted by an attendant, we inquired what to do with the ticket and the voucher, but the dwarf couldn’t help us: it was his first day and he knew nothing. I didn’t ask if he was from Barcelona. We parked and at the information desk at level -1 they explained us that when we would like to leave, we should come back to them and they would provide us with a ticket to leave in exchange for the voucher and the ticket from the boom barrier. All right! The Centre Pompidou opens at eleven but at twenty past ten there was already quite a queue lining up for the priority access. The queue for the cash registry was  considerably smaller, could the friend that warned  me for this be right, should I have heeded his advice? Around eleven, an attendant proclaimed that the museum doors would soon open but that the non-priority people would have to wait another quarter to twenty minutes. Of course: I realized that that friend is rarely right. We followed the stream of people up the moving escalators to the top level of the Centre while enjoying a spectacular view of the Parisian skyline. Once in the exhibition room, surrounded by Dalí’s art, we realized we had forgotten to get an audio guide at the ground floor. Since you need to buy a special ticket for an audio guide, getting one would mean queue a considerable time. We shrugged off the disappointment and enjoyed the exposition. For two hours we revelled in surrealism.

Although the sky was bright and the sun was shining it was a cold winter day. Once on the street hunger reared its head. We would deal with it while walking towards the Louvre. We strolled along the north side of Les Halles, crossed the Rue du Louvre and saw a red neon sign spelling PIZZA. We were in the mood for Italian food and decided to try our luck. Pizza Valentino, 26 Rue du Bouloi, serves a decent pizza amidst a nice interior for a reasonable price.

The guy manning the audio guide stand at the Louvre decided to practice his German with us, probably after hearing us speak to each other. My mother tongue is Dutch, related but not the same as German. I told the clerk: “Excusez-moi monsieur, Je ne suis pas Allemand, je suis néerlandophone” Maybe he assumed he was speaking Dutch because he persisted. With a gentle smile we accepted the audio guides and proceeded to the first floor of the Denon section were the painting are located. We enjoyed the paintings and the commentaries until we reached Bathsheba at Her Bath by Rembrandt and the PA informed us that the museum was about to close. Since this painting is one of Rembrandt finest, we were happy to end our tour of the Louvre at a high note.

We wandered through the Jardin des Tuileries, crossed the Seine and followed the river’s south bank towards the Musée d’Orsay. The museum was closed, as we had expected, but we learned that in the final months of this year there will be a major exposition of the works of Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo. Paris will see me at least once again this year. We set course for Les Halles by crossing the passerelle Solférino. In the McDonald’s in the Rue Berger we contemplated our options: go to a bar, continue marching through Paris like madmen or return home since there was still a four hour drive ahead of us. A thought took shape in ours minds: we could return to the Centre and visit the Dalí retrospective with audio guides. Sounds surreal? That’s the idea! The Centre is open until eleven and after seven the queues are much shorter. Besides: we didn’t have torn tickets, we had printed vouchers on an A4 paper, so we could just try to reuse it. The vouchers were scanned again and after a small half hour waiting we entered the Dalí exposition for the second time, with an audio guide dangling from our necks. Only one in eight or so paintings has a commentary but it still took us an hour an half to listen to them all. I would really recommend the guides, because you see so much more in the paintings thanks to them. Many of Dalí’s paintings have so many details or things concealed or things that could be interpreted in multiple ways, depending on your angle or distance to the painting. With some of the paintings you can even listen to Dalí’s own explanations: quite mad, I dare say.

With our heads almost exploding with information and on the verge of a cultural overdose we returned to the parking around ten. We presented the ticket and the voucher to the information desk and got our leaving ticket … from the same guy as in the morning. 12! hours later. Could have been his twin brother of course. We left what must be the most modern and beautiful underground garage I have ever seen and said au revoir and not adieu to Paris. What a wonderful day!

The Dalí retrospective continues every day until the 25th of March. Don’t doubt, just go!

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