At the 1939 World’s Fair Salvador Dalí’s pavilion, Dream of Venus, was known for a façade made up of soft curves and protrusions and featured semi-clothed beauties acting out an underwater fantasy.
Dream of Venus was an extraordinary achievement of the artist’s personal vision and, for fairgoers, an introduction to the often-mystifying Surrealist movement.
Dream of Venus is recognized as one of the earliest full-scale installation pieces, which included sound and performance to make it one of the first multi-media artworks.
Lured by a siren’s recorded chants (sung by B-move legend Ruth Ford), visitors purchased twenty-five cent tickets from a fish-headed booth, and then passed through an entrance flanked by two towering legs clad in stockings and high-heels. Visitors could see reproductions of Leonardo da Vinci’s Saint John the Baptist and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus through openings in the irregular façade, which artist Urszula Trudnos will recreate in a painted mural in the museum’s largest gallery.
Inside the building, visitors entered a lavish grotto, the centerpiece of which was a nude sleeping Venus, who reclined in a 36 foot-long bed covered in white and red satin, flowers, and leaves. Her dream was staged underwater in the adjacent aquarium, where women wearing revealing costumes adorned with fins and spikes milked a mummified cow, tapped on giant typewriter keys, and answered oversized submerged telephones. Black and white and color photographs by Horst P. Horst, George Platt Lynes, Eric Schaal, Carl van Vechten, and others, document the architectural space as well as the artists who created it, and the actors and models who swam and sunbathed throughout.