By Carol L. Timblin
St. Petersburg, Florida, attracts thousands of visitors each year to its sunny beaches, parks, nature trails, golf courses and cultural venues more. Museum junkies especially love St. Petersburg, because it’s home to 31 museums and galleries.
This past November, the city’s Dali Museum became the country’s first museum to welcome the “Van Gogh Alive” exhibit. Since that time the immersive multi-sensory exhibit has attracted thousands of visitors. The exhibit debuted in Paris in 2019 and has been shown in 50 other cities around the world. When the exhibit closes at the Dali Museum on April 11, 2021, it will move to The LUME Indianapolis in Newfields, Indiana.
What makes the Van Gogh exhibit so unique? Once inside the exhibit, visitors enter the world and art of Vincent Van Gogh, a post-impressionist Dutch painter (1853-1890). They find themselves under a canopy of moving stars in the dark night sky, walking through fields of sunflowers and beyond. The exhibit features more than 3,000 Van Gogh large-scale images, viewed through high-definition projectors and synchronized to a high quality surround-sound system. Visitors also learn about the artist’s inspirations through photographs and videos.
Not only is Van Gogh’s art front and center, the story of his tragic and tormented life unfolds in the exhibit. Born in Zundert in the Netherlands, Van Gogh was driven to paint his life experiences in his homeland or in neighboring Belgium and France. His parents disapproved of his pursuit of art. However, his brother Theo, an art dealer in Paris, encouraged and supported him financially. Van Gogh never sold a painting during his life, which ended with his suicide in 1890. His brother’s wife Johanna had a great deal to do with his celebrity, as she was always publicizing and collecting the artist’s work. Her collection is the foundation of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
“Van Gogh Alive” tickets include admission to the Dali Museum and may be reserved online in advance. Visitors are required to wear masks, practice social distancing, and have temperatures checked for the exhibit.
Take Time for Dali
Though the Van Gogh exhibit has been in the spotlight for the past several months, visitors should allow plenty of time to see the amazing collection of art by Salvador Dali (1904-1989). The most comprehensive collection of work by the surrealist outside of Spain is on permanent display at the museum. It includes over 2,100 items — oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, glassworks, sculptures, photos and manuscripts. The Dali Museum is within easy distance of several other St. Petersburg museums. Amassed by A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse of Ohio, the collection moved to its permanent home in St. Petersburg in 1982. This year the museum celebrates the anniversary of the modern facility and beautiful gardens that were built 10 years ago. Be sure to see “At home with Dali,” a group of 40 portraits of Dali in Spain; Dali’s masterworks in reality, featuring eight masterworks in the permanent collection; and “Dali Lives” (via artificial intelligence).
The Chihuly Collection/Morean Glass Studio
Another artistic sensation to see in St. Petersburg is the Chihuly Collection at the Morean Glass Studio. The collection features 18 installations by the world-renowned glass artist, including Ruby Red Icicle Chandelier, created especially for the studio, and Macchia, Ikebana, Niijima Floats, Persians and Tumbleweeds. Don’t miss the glass demonstrations at the studio, Wednesdays through Saturdays. Admission includes the Chihuly Collection and the galleries at the Morean Art Center. The Chihuly Collection — as well as the Morean Glass Studio, glass blowing demonstration, and non-ticketed exhibits at the Morean Arts Center and Morean Center for Clay — is included in the TampaBayCity PASS.
Other St. Petersburg Museums
The appreciation of art and history is nothing new for St. Petersburg. Two of the city’s prominent museums, located near the famous St. Petersburg Pier, have delighted locals and visitors for decades. The St. Petersburg Museum of History, founded in 1920, showcases the history and heritage of Florida, including St. Petersburg and Pinellas County. It’s best known for its exhibit on the Benoist XIV seaplane and its exhibit on the world’s largest collection of baseball cards. The Museum of Fine Arts, which opened in 1965, is housed in an elegant Palladian-style designed by John Volt. Art from around the world, representing every period in history, is showcased in its 20 galleries, plus the Sculpture Garden is outstanding.
Other museums in St. Petersburg specialize in designated art mediums.
- The focus of Imagine Museum is American glass art and international art.
- The Duncan-McClellan Gallery shines the light on contemporary works by American and international glass artists. It also has a sculpture garden.
- Florida artists are spotlighted at the Florida CraftArt museum.
- The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art houses paintings and sculptures, ranging from the Early West to the New West, including Native American art and western wildlife art.
St. Petersburg is also home to a number of special museums not necessarily associated with art. Here are a few you should visit!
- The Florida Holocaust Museum honors the millions who suffered or died during the Holocaust
- Carter G. Woodson Museum, named for a local civil rights leader, focuses on current issues such as Black Lives Matter and voting rights.
- The Ted Williams Museum & Hitters Hall of Fame underscores St. Petersburg’s fascination with baseball. After all, nearby Clearwater is home to the Philadelphia Phillies’ Spring Training Camp and Dunedin hosts the Toronto Blue Jays spring training. The Ted Williams Museum is dedicated to the famous baseball player but also sheds light on other baseball greats such as Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.
Staying in St. Pete? Here are other things to do while you’re here!
- Hop aboard the Downtown Looper/eLooper for free transportation to major museums and attractions, plus dining and shopping venues. Then head to St. Pete Beach via PSTA’s Central Avenue Trolley.
- Visit the historic Manhattan Casino, which hosted popular African-American musicians for four decades (1925-1968).
- Visit Ft. DeSoto Beach, rated one of America’s top beaches by TripAdvisor, offers varied beach activities, camping, trails, boating, fishing, picnicking and more.
- Spend time at the new St. Pete Pier, offering dining, shopping at the Marketplace, and attractions, including the St. Petersburg Museum of History and Tampa Bay Museum of Discovery Center.
- Explore the century-old Sunken Gardens, featuring rare tropical plants and flowers in the heart of the city.
- Check out dining options at The Don Cesar, a St. Petersburg landmark since 1928.
- Watch the Tampa Bay Rays play baseball and/or the Tampa Bay Rowdies play soccer.