The fabled entrance to the “Dream of Venus” pavilion created by Salvador Dalí for the World’s Fair in 1939.
Salvador Dalí was asked to create a pavilion for the World’s Fair to be held in Summer of 1939 in Flushing Meadow, Queens, NY. Given a canvas this big, as you might imagine, Dalí‘s concept for what was called “Dream of Venus” was just as over-the-top as the wildly eccentric Surrealist himself. In a letter written to his friend, Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel, Dalí reported that the pavilion would include “genuine explosive giraffes.” That never happened during the eight weeks it took to set up and construct what has been referred to as Dalí‘s “funhouse.”
The creation of the pavilion was the idea of noted architect, artist, and art collector, Ian Woodner. Woodner approached New York art dealer Julien Levy and together they quickly decided to give the gig to Dalí. As you entered the pavilion you had to pass between twin pillars that were fashioned in the image of female legs that were protruding from a skirt that had been pulled up above the knees. In various windows at the entrance, Dali placed a sculpture of a nude torso of a woman with another naked body of a woman in a window above who had a mermaid-like tail. There was also a large-scale image of Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.” Dalí had intended to remove the head of the goddess and replace it with a fish head. This was one of many conceptual ideas the artist had intended to incorporate into the pavilion that was soundly rejected by the Fair’s organizers and sponsors. Dalí was so incensed by the Fair’s requests for alterations to his fever-dream funhouse that he wrote a pamphlet called “Declaration of the Independence of the Imagination and the Rights of Man to His Own Madness.” The pamphlet condemned the Fair’s censorship of his work and with the help of a pilot and an airplane, he had copies of it dropped from the sky all over New York City.
Here’s a bit from Dalí‘s “fuck you squares” manifesto which you can read in its entirety here:
“Only the violence and duration of your hardened dream can resist the hideous mechanical civilization that is your enemy, that is also the enemy of the ‘..pleasure-principle’ of all men. It is man’s right to love women with the ecstatic heads of fish.”
Once visitors got inside “Dream of Venus” things got fantastically freaky. Two huge swimming pools featured partially nude models floating around in the water. In one of the pools, a woman dressed in a head-to-toe rubber suit that had been painted with piano keys cavorted around with other “mermaids” who “played” her imaginary piano. In fact, the place was filled with scantly-clad women lying in beds or perched on top of a taxi being driven by a female looking S&M batwoman. There were functional telephones made of rubber as well as an offputting life-size version of a cow’s udder that you could touch—if you wanted to, that is. Dalí had originally intended for all of his female models (his “living liquid ladies”) to have fish heads, but this was yet another one of the artist’s visions for the pavilion that was spit on by Fair’s sponsors. What a drag. Despite all the push back, “Dream of Venus” is nothing short of a stunning display of touristy fun gone off the rails. I’ve posted images of the funhouse-style pavilion below, many of which were taken by German-born photographer Eric Schaal. The 2002 book, Salvador Dalí‘s Dream of Venus: The Surrealist Funhouse from the 1939 World’s Fair chronicled the entire process down to the very last detail in photos including behind-the-scenes snapshots of some of Dalí‘s models getting ready to give the performance of their lives. Most of the images that follow are NSFW.
Dalí and his wife and muse, Gala.
More Dalinian madness at the 1939 World Fair, after the jump…