Salvador Dalí Is Dead, But Not Entirely

AI, Salvador Dali
Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, 1st Marquis of Dalí de Púbol, also known as Salvador Dalí, died in 1989, but will be resurrected by The Dalí Museum in April 2019. Flickr (CC By 2.0)

When "Dalí Lives" opens in the spring of 2019, it will be "an unconventional experience of this very unconventional artist," according to Kathy Greif, the chief operating officer of the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. Wouldn't Dalí have loved to be there for this one-of-a-kind exhibition? Maybe in some way he will be. As he once wrote, "If someday I may die, though it is unlikely, I hope the people in the cafes will say, 'Dali has died, but not entirely.'"

Courtesy of the 21st century and massive leaps in artificial intelligence (AI), Dalí's wish is coming true in a big way.


The Changing Museum Experience

The first museums were private collections of exotic objects known as cabinets of curiosities or wonder rooms. Only guests of the wealthy owners were admitted to view the items. Now works of art and wonders of science are available to everyone online anytime, without ever leaving home. But you should leave home, especially now that museums are offering immersive experiences to engage you with artists and artifacts as never before.

In the last decade or so, smart museums have acknowledged that smartphones are collaborative tools and not just competition for eyeballs. Mobile tech is embedded in many, if not most, museum experiences, and apps abound. Some apps provide real-time answers to visitor questions, some let you create a customized tour by selecting "really big" or "really old," for example. Augmented reality apps re-animate 3D dinosaurs to great effect and bring to life historical figures who virtually guide you through exhibits.


The Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida is no stranger to delivering digital experiences. Its latest is even stranger and more wonderful than previous tech-inspired offerings. "Dalí Lives: Where Art Meets Artificial Intelligence", opening in April 2019, presents a kind of rebirth of Salvador Dalí decades after his death.

Throughout the exhibit, visitors will be invited to connect with an AI resurrection of Dalí. Click a button, and a life-size image of the larger-than-life artist appears on one of many screens throughout the exhibit. Visitors gain insight into the work by interacting with AI Dalí as they wander the museum's more than 2,000 paintings, illustrations, sculptures and photographs.

"This Dalí speaks directly to guests about his work and his world, and about our current world," explains Greif. "Visitors won't be guided directly through the galleries. They'll experience the work as they engage with the person who knew Dalí best – the artist himself."


Enter Goodby Silverstein & Partners

To create AI Dalí, museum staff amassed archival footage and hundreds of interviews and quotes and shared them with Goodby Silverstein & Partners, the design agency that created the museum's earlier digital experiences. GS&P found an actor who matched Dali's physical proportions and then trained an AI algorithm to learn Dalí's face and integrate his likeness with the actor's face and expressions. New footage was created of the actor performing monologues based on Dalí's quotes and writings but with a present-day twist.

"Along with his original thoughts, AI Dalí might comment on the current weather or time of day for an authentic, conversational experience," says Greif. Authenticity that is delivered, paradoxically, by AI.


The museum's AI experience was inspired by Salvador Dalí himself. Throughout his long career, the artist combined technical expertise with dreamlike symbolism to create work that fascinates as it disquiets. Distorted objects on meticulously painted landscapes, elephants with impossibly long legs, melting timepieces. All part of the world of Dalí, which thanks to this exhibit is now more accessible than ever.

"This is one of the pillars of our digital strategy – using cutting-edge technology to preserve Dalí's remarkable legacy," Greif says. "The museum industry has become very adaptive; we're proud to be part of this new wave."

Before "Dalí Lives", The Dalí Museum collaborated with GS&P in a 2014 exhibit that turned visitor selfies into replicas of a Dali painting. The two organizations then co-created "Dreams of Dalí" in 2016, a virtual reality experience where viewers immerse themselves in the surrealism of a Dalí painting. "Dreams" garnered international attention and continues to be a popular attraction. The museum also has another, yet to be revealed digital project in the works.