Sorry, Dalí’s ‘Persistence of Memory’ Isn’t Home Right Now.

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dalí Historian


Would the Louvre be quite the same without Leonardo’s Mona Lisa? Would New York’s Museum of Modern Art be the same without Dalí’s Persistence of Memory?


A recent news report about The Persistence of Memory being on loan to an art exhibition in Australia brought back a personal memory that got me thinking about the worst potential museum-going experience: learning that the one main work you came to see is not there!


It’s not at all hard to imagine folks traveling long distances – perhaps from locations across the world, in some cases – to check off their bucket list seeing Dalí’s iconic melting watches in the flesh.




Small in size, The Persistence of Memory qualifies as one of the biggest achievements in art history. It’s not only the most universally recognized Salvador Dalí painting, but is unquestionably the most famous surrealist canvas ever created.


So it’s not at all inconceivable that people would travel very long distances to see the work, which has been a part of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection for many decades, when it was acquired for $250!


But anyone visiting the MoMA today, as I write this on June 10 (coincidentally the 36th anniversary of the death of Dalí’s wife, Gala) will be profoundly disappointed to learn, perhaps to their very real horror, that if they want to see it, they’re on the wrong continent. At least for some months to come.


Sorry, but Dalí’s Persistence of Memory isn’t home right now.


The mega-masterpiece will hang until Oct. 7 in the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, part of a collaborative exhibition between the Gallery and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. A newspaper recently quoted MoMA director Glenn Lowry: “I keep thinking, ‘What? We lent (it)? What were we thinking?”


That’s surely what untold numbers of MoMA visitors will be wondering between now and when the priceless Dalí returns to the Big Apple about four and a half months from now.


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I myself had two similar experiences – one very close to home, the other more distant. Years back I paid my admission price to enter the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in my hometown of Buffalo, New York. As was my habit, I headed straight for the wall on which a number of surrealist paintings hung, including works by Joan Miro, Yves Tanguy, and, of course, Salvador Dalí: his stunning Transparent Simulacrum of the Feigned Image of 1938.


It wasn’t there.




A quick inquiry found that the painting was out on loan at an exhibition in Europe. I checked out Picasso, Miro, Warhol, Van Gogh and others, but I sure missed that perfectly painted Dalí.


Things got much worse when, back in the late 1970s or early ‘80s, I don’t quite recall, I traveled by train from Buffalo to Boston, Massachusetts for the expressed purpose of seeing Dalí’s large Homage to Crick and Watson painting. It was owned then by, and displayed at, New England Merchants National Bank at Prudential Plaza.


I was beyond crestfallen when I traveled all that way, only to find the bank was undergoing a major lobby renovation, in which the huge painting was normally displayed. The painting was there when I showed up, all right – crated within miles of plywood nailed hopelessly shut!


The train trip back from Boston was sad and long.


I never got to see the work until some 10 years later, when it was part of the big Dalí retrospective at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal, Canada. It is now, of course, in the permanent collection of The Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.


So my advice to you is simple and so, so important: call ahead!


(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)