Catalunya - the region of Spain where Barcelona is located - is feisty. It has its own language. It has its own traditions. It has a tendency to shake things up. This is apparent in nearly every dimension of Catalan culture, but it is perhaps most potent in Catalan art.
I recently went to Figueres, a small town about an hour-and-a-half bus ride from Barcelona. Figueres would probably be a sleepy town just like any other dotting the Spanish countryside were it not for one thing - the fact that Salvador Dalí was born there.
Now, Figueres is a tourist hot spot because it is where Dalí decided to locate his Theater-Museum, which is a showcase of his art, a physical manifestation of his zany dreams, and a place for his tomb (the site where the museum stands was formerly a theater, but there are no longer live theatrical performances).
As you'd expect from Dalí, the museum is packed full of weird things. There's the random taxi in the center of the courtyard that rains on the inside. There's the ‘sculpture' of Mae West, an American sex icon, made out of furniture. And there's a painting of a naked backside of a woman that looks like Abraham Lincoln's face when you look at it from far away and squint your eyes. I expected the museum to be weird.
But I did not expect to see that Dalí was a master of nearly every type of art. He is best known for his surrealist paintings, but his cubist works were as good as Picasso's, his still life's were as good as the Dutch ones, and his portraits were practically photorealistic. He was a true master of multiple forms of painting.
Dalí also pushed the bounds of art beyond the 2-D canvas. The Theater-Museum has a number of Dalí's paintings that are 3-D. The artist painted the same scene from two slightly different perspectives. When you look at them through a mirror, your eyes trick you into thinking that you're seeing 3-D. Dalí was involved in making movies, sculptures, and practically every creative output that a human is capable of.
Luckily, a tour guide helped guide us through the jungle of Dalí's ideas. If it were not for her, I would have had no idea what was going on. She was able to translate the fantasies of Dalí into a language I could understand (if it were not for her, I never would have figured out that the dome on the ceiling is supposed to represent a fly's eye). But, apparently, tour guides were against Dalí's wishes. He thought that his work could speak for itself. According to my guidebook, "Dalí said there are two kinds of visitors: those who don't need a description, and those who aren't worth a description."
Although our organized tour through the museum was un-surrealist, I appreciated our guide's insight into Dalí's life. He was a master of marketing, and he actively put on a crazy persona. People close to him said that he acted very differently in his private and public lives.
Which raises the central question about Dalí: How much of his zaniness was a projected alter-ego, and how much of it was genuine?
Unfortunately, this question will never be answered. It is impossible to know. We have only memories, speculation, and squid-ink paintings. We have only drawer sculptures and dreams. The key is buried 3 feet under, right below the old stage, covered by an uncharacteristically plain white slab of stone.
• Scott Norgaard is a junior at Rice University in Houston, Texas, pursing a degree in mathematical economic analysis. He is an alumni of Desert Vista High School in Ahwatukee. This column is part of a series chronicling his adventures studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain.