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Dali at the World's Fair: "It is man's right to love women with ecstatic fish heads"
November 5, 2011 6:59 PM   Subscribe

Salvador Dali's Dream of Venus, one of the earliest full-scale art installation pieces, raised some eyebrows at the 1939 World's Fair. Visitors entered beneath the spread legs of a woman in high heels to find a grotto featuing Venus, a topless sleeping actress on a red satin bed surrounded by lobsters and champagne bottles. Her dream, visible through the nearby window, included cavorting (again topless) mermaids flapping their rubber fins and playing a woman-shaped piano. Murry Korman took many iconic photos of the spectacle. What few knew was that Dali was engaged in a battle of creative crontol with his sponsor, a rubber tycoon and creator of rubber mermaid tails among other things. Dali would appear on site while the exhibition was being created and snip the tails off of the mermaids (pdf). While he was not around for the opening of his creation, he purportedly hired a plane to drop printed leaflets over New York: "The Declaration of the Independence of the Imagination and the Rights of Man to his Own Madness," a protest against efforts to interfere with his vision. [some links NSFW, via]
posted by jessamyn (27 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
There's been a Dali movie in the works for ages with Antonio Banderas in the lead and Simon West directing. I really wanted to do the rewrite but could never make the timing work. I say this because when I did the research for it, it gave me massively more respect for Dali than I had had before. I like him because he engaged directly, almost obsessively, with the commercial world. He was never part of the fine art world, and I love him for that. But on the other hand his relationship with commerce was always adversarial and self-destructive. Dali really occupies his own little space, a bit like Warhol, between art and commerce. At the end of his life, he transcended all of it, which makes him potentially such a wonderful movie subject.
posted by unSane at 7:17 PM on November 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think my favorite thing about this is the knowledge that in 1939, somebody's job was making rubber mermaid tails.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:19 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Without the tail the mermaid in the link looks just like Aquaman's ex-girlfriend.

Still, very Dada, very Dali.

Why couldn't they have cloned Dali instead of Dolly?

And which one is Lady Dada?

Goodnighteverybody!
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:22 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think my favorite thing about this is the knowledge that in 1939, somebody's job was making rubber mermaid tails.

Wasn't there a whole thing back in the day (meaning in the first half of the 20th century) where clubs would have giant water tanks and women dressed as mermaids who would be underwater breathing from bubble hoses for long periods of time?
posted by hippybear at 7:28 PM on November 5, 2011


Antonio Banderas in the lead

MISTAKE!!! Anyone who's seen Midnight in Paris knows that Adrian Brody was brought into the universe for no other purpose than to play Dali. Period. Please GOD somebody make a 90 minute movie of Brody sitting in a cafe simply doing Dali.

Meanwhile, my ex used to tell me that Dali was "more important than Picasso" which I took as so much heresy.

Then, I spent a day at the museum and I went from neophyte to TOTAL SNOB. Basically: if you haven't spent a day at the Dali museum you can not possibly understand how important this guy was. So there.
posted by victors at 7:31 PM on November 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yep, the Dali Museum is pretty much the key.
posted by unSane at 7:35 PM on November 5, 2011


Picasso led to Dali led to Warhol.

The 20th Century was a very odd and yet productive time in Art, but the Chain Of Being is clear.

My only question is, what did Warhol lead to? Either Lady Gaga, or Banksy, or Hirst. I'm betting on anything but the last of those.
posted by hippybear at 7:36 PM on November 5, 2011


clubs would have giant water tanks and women dressed as mermaids who would be underwater breathing from bubble hoses for long periods of time?

You are thinking of Weeki Wachee Springs and other similar places.
posted by jessamyn at 7:38 PM on November 5, 2011


clubs would have giant water tanks and women dressed as mermaids

Now that you mention it, of course the Darling Mermaid Darlings would have needed a supplier for their synchronized swimming accoutrements.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:48 PM on November 5, 2011


You are thinking of Weeki Wachee Springs and other similar places.

Well, yes, that... Not to mention the original version of the Disneyland submarine ride. I think that had mermaids as well.
posted by hippybear at 7:50 PM on November 5, 2011


One of my most cherished books is a giant coffee table Dali cookbook (link anybody?) that I bought in the 70'ies
posted by growabrain at 8:09 PM on November 5, 2011


By this time Andre Breton had christened Dali by an anagram of his name Avida Dollars. (surrealism tag please)
posted by adamvasco at 8:13 PM on November 5, 2011


Weird personal connection to Dali...in my sophomore year of high school each student was meant to dress up as a famous historical figure and give a five minute speech. Absolutely can't remember any of my classmates' choices, but I was Dali, complete with handlebar mustachio made of cut-out construction paper, and affixed with scotch tape. Sadly, it kept falling off during the speech. Pretty sure I just rattled off a bunch of biographical data, and occasionally made swooping gestures at the print of Persistence of Memory on the chalkboard tray that my mom and I picked up at a headshop the night before . I definitely remember throwing in the quote from the linked PDF:"There is only one difference between a madman and me. The madman thinks he is sane, I know I am mad."

Awesomely, I made it to the Dali Theatre/Museum in Figueres while bumming around Europe in '02. Absolutely trippy to the extreme, a perfect real-world rendering of Dali's work, with plenty of 2D stuff. There were floor-to-high-ceiling screen prints of his works, permanently melting objects, and yeah if you are standing in the right place, you actually experience the Mae West piece.

Dali's brand of artful meaninglessness has shaped the way I live now, for better or worse...
posted by obscurator at 9:41 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great post. I didn't know about this.

Dali was so free in its creations that he reveals how timid we can be.

He was very funny too.

His kind of madness is liberating.
posted by bru at 9:44 PM on November 5, 2011


Dali would appear on site while the exhibition was being created and snip the tails off of the mermaids.

In any other case, this would have been depressing. But for a Dali-made work, it was Tuesday.

Regardless of the actual day.
posted by BiggerJ at 9:50 PM on November 5, 2011


Wow...
posted by growabrain at 11:54 PM on November 5, 2011


Adrian Brody was brought into the universe for no other purpose than to play Dali
I totally agree with this

amazing post!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:10 AM on November 6, 2011


How interesting. I'm sad to say my only previous exposure to him was a recent link on Reddit: Salvador Dali on "What's My Line?"
posted by floam at 1:28 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


What did Gala say to Salvador when he went to India with the country singer?
"Don't dilly-dally in Delhi with Dolly, Dali."
posted by beshtya at 1:31 AM on November 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Art as a gateway for 'artistic appreciation' of nakedness has a long history. But showing live boobies in 1939 is a different thing.
Artists were able to shock the populace by showing sex related scenes.
In the Netherlands were I live a naked woman was shown on television in 1967.
Nowadays it's harder to shock that way because of the prevalence of porn.
Jan Fabre seems to have tried though in 2008 by creating a life like statue of an ejaculating man (nsfw). The title is 'Fountain of the world (as a young artist)'. Which mirrors nicely the title of Gustave Courbets nsfw painting 'l'Origine du Monde'.
He's the same guy who decorated the Mirror Hall (spiegelzaal) of the Royal Palace in Brussels in the green iridescent shields of beetles.
posted by joost de vries at 3:55 AM on November 6, 2011


I always thought the quotation was:

"The difference between myself and a madman that I am not mad."

That is how it's always been in my fortune cookie file any way.
posted by bukvich at 5:10 AM on November 6, 2011


Not to mention the original version of the Disneyland submarine ride. I think that had mermaids as well.

It sure did. And recently one of the mermaids was interviewed.
posted by Spatch at 5:12 AM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


wikiquote says this one is properly cited:

"What is an elegant woman? An elegant woman is a woman who despises you and who has no hair under her arms. "
posted by bukvich at 5:42 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


joost, I was only half-way through your comment and thinking "Shocking nudity? But what about 'The Origin of the World'? 1850 or about?" and went off to find a link. On coming back I see that you've already mentioned it.

There is a difference between a single painting and a worlds fair. And artistic nakedness can still cause controversy in 1994.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:24 AM on November 6, 2011


In the late 60's I knew a young girl, a South American beauty, who became one of Dali's models in NYC. From her I heard about Dali's enmeshment with fellow, sexually obsessed voyeur, Carlos Alemany, a jeweler, who made Dali's designs in precious metals and gemstones. These men would go on the prowl for young girls -then the trendy word was nymphets- and boys (sometimes willing groupies or those when went on to become famous in their own right) and get them into a variety of sexual situations, in tableaux vivants, as models, whatever.

She told me how much of Dali's painting was done by art students after Dali drew the outline, which is, apparently, fairly commonplace among well known painters. My friend was bitter and disgusted by Dali and his jeweler buddy. Both of those things, Dali's predatory interest in sexuality and his use of others to do his grunt work, left me less impressed at the time with his art.

But now, as the years have gone by I see that Dali was an extraordinary iconoclast, an innovator. I understand that his outrageousness, like at this 1939 World's Fair in the article posted, had an excellent part in busting up the uptight, narrow minded, rigidity of the middle of the last century, which paved the way for lots of meaningful and good social changes.
posted by nickyskye at 7:00 AM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wasn't there a whole thing back in the day (meaning in the first half of the 20th century) where clubs would have giant water tanks and women dressed as mermaids who would be underwater breathing from bubble hoses for long periods of time?

See also Oldboy for a more recent example.
posted by ersatz at 7:00 AM on November 6, 2011


Re underwater cabaret. Breton's wife Jacqueline Lamba was a naked underwater performer when he met her.
Dali was a supurb technician as a painter and true to the surrealist spirit, however after his first visit to New York and egged on by Gala he became extremely avericious. It is suspected that he was an asexual coprophiliac who was more into observation than participation. Gala was voracious both in her monetary yearings and in her sexual appetite but it did not weaken their relationship of artist and muse. Dali adored her to the end.
posted by adamvasco at 11:45 AM on November 6, 2011


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