National News

Monterey facility sued over use of Dali name, likeness

Posted July 10, 2018 8:07 p.m. EDT

MONTEREY -- Salvador Dali, who loved anything that called attention to himself, would surely be overjoyed at what the lawyers have cooked up on his behalf here.

His heart, like his famous clocks, might even be melting.

A Spanish foundation that claims to own the artist's legacy filed suit in San Francisco to force a small Dali museum on the Monterey waterfront to stop using Dali's name and likeness and to turn over all souvenir Dali T-shirts, Dali coloring books and Dali mustache wax boxes in the gift shop for immediate destruction.

The artist's most famous painting may be called ``The Persistence of Memory'' but apparently that memory must not persist on 100 percent cotton, size XL, for $24.99 plus tax.

``Dali belongs to everyone,'' said Michael Sworaczyk, a visitor from Austin, Texas, who had paid $20 to take a look at hundreds of mostly lithographs inside the two-story museum on the historic plaza. ``His art should be seen. He's one of the greatest artists of all time.''

Dali, who died in 1989, might have agreed, and also with fellow visitor Lynn Fong, of Palo Alto.

``There are so many lawsuits in the world already,'' she said, while gazing at a Dali giraffe that only somewhat resembled a giraffe. ``If this guy bought the art works, doesn't he have a right to display 'em?''

No, argues the Dali Foundation of Figueres, Spain. It claims in a 14-page lawsuit filed in federal court on Friday that the museum, which calls itself Dali17, ``misappropriated Salvador Dali's name and likeness to advertise and promote their museum, and have reproduced and displayed copyrighted artworks.''

Dali directed the establishment of the foundation six years before his death to protect his work and name, according to the lawsuit.

The Dali aficionado who opened the museum two years ago is local real estate mogul Dmitry Piterman, who converted what was formerly a local maritime museum whose model boats were no longer cutting it, customer-wise.

Piterman told The Chronicle two years ago that he became obsessed with the painter while a student at UC Berkeley and became a collector of his work.

Piterman, as well as the attorneys representing the Dali Foundation, declined to comment on the legal dust-up. The suit, according to foundation attorney Noel Cook, speaks for itself.

In it, the foundation claims the museum did not heed warnings that it was violating the law by keeping its doors open. The suit demands that Piterman ``deliver up for destruction all products and merchandise'' in the museum store.

That would include the battery-powered melted-but-working clocks ($30), the Dali rubber ducks ($17) , the Dali coloring books ($20), the Dali-brand ``enigma roast'' coffee beans ($13), the Dali mustache wax box ($14) and the Dali T-shirts ($25, $29 and $33).

Also the $15 Dali coffee mugs that proclaim, most prophetically, ``Things are about to get surreal.''

This they are, said the museum's lone employee, who was selling tickets at the front desk and who declined to give his name because, he said, he liked working in museum full of melted clocks and giraffes and wanted to keep doing it.

``The lawsuit is way above my pay grade anyway,'' he said.

Law experts said the suit appears to be on solid, non-melting legal grounds.

UC Hastings School of Law civil litigation professor David Levine said Piterman ``may well have a problem'' by using Dali's name and image to promote the museum.

And the destruction of all the T-shirts, coffee mugs and geegaws ``might well be the remedy'' that the foundation is entitled to.

It's one thing, Levine said, to display a Dali painting on a museum wall. It's another thing to use Dali's image to promote it.

To be safe, Levine said, Piterman needs a different strategy.

``If he advertises it as 'Dmitry's Museum Featuring Works of Salvador Dali' without using Dali's likeness, that's probably OK,'' Levine said.

And it would help for Dali to be dead longer than the 29 years he's been dead, Levine said. He needs to be dead for 60 years. Then Piterman can print up all the Dali mustache T-shirts he wants.

As an example, the professor said a car dealer can have a George Washington's birthday car sale and use pictures of Washington, but that the same doesn't work with 21st century presidents.

``George Washington's heirs can't sue,'' Levine said. ``You're cool.''

A dozen or so other paying customers were wandering through the gallery on Tuesday, paying particular attention to the exhibits that highlighted the Spanish artist's connection to Monterey. Dali came to California in the 1940s, collaborating with such fellow showmen as Walt Disney and Alfred Hitchcock and throwing a notorious celebrity dinner party at a Monterey hotel that featured an appetizer of live frogs presented to to comedian Bob Hope and a main course served in bedroom slippers.

The canvases in the museum are along much the same lines. There are lots of melted clocks, twisted faces, elongated animals, distorted biblical figures and various lesser subtleties.

The original oil painting of ``The Persistence of Memory''-- Dali's iconic image of melted clocks and watches -- is on display not at the Monterey gallery but at a slightly larger establishment -- the Museum of Modern Art in New York. What Piterman is displaying, along with the image on souvenirs, is an ``original lithograph of a reproduction'' of the masterpiece.

A sign near the lithograph does explain that the ``vision of melting clocks appeared to Dali after eating Camembert cheese that had turned soft and gooey.''

Museum visitor Dan Pony, of New York, said he didn't know about the Camembert but that a lithograph of a reproduction was ``pretty cool'' anyway.

``I never expected to see a Dali museum in Monterey,'' he said. ``I think it's great.''