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Salvador Dali's "Dream of Venus": The Surrealist Funhouse from the 1939 World's Fair [Hardcover]

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Book Description

29 Oct 2002
Life Magazine wrote that one funhouse at the 1939 World's Fair stood out among the others: "Dal's Dream of Venus, the creation of famed Surrealist painter Salvador Dal, is the most recent addition to the still-growing list of amusement-area girl shows and easily the most amazing. Weird building contains a dry tank and a wet tank. In the wet tank girls swim under water, milk a bandaged-up cow, tap typewriter keys which float like seaweed. Keyboard of piano is painted on the recumbent female figure made of rubber. In dry tank...a sleeping Venus reclines in 36-foot bed, covered with white and red satin, flowers, and leaves. Scattered about the bed are lobsters frying on beds of hot coals and bottles of champagne....All this is most amusing and interesting."The building's modern, expressionistic exterior, with an entrance framed by a woman's legs, and shocking interior, including the bare-breasted "living liquid ladies" who occupied the tanks, caused quite a stir. The funhouse was so successful that it reopened for a second season, but once torn down it faded from memory and its outlandishness became the stuff of urban myth. Now, more than 60 years later, a collection of photographs of the Dream of Venus by Eric Schaal has been discovered. In stunning black-and-white and early Kodachrome, they show both the construction and the completion of the funhouse-from Dal painting a melting clock to showgirls parading for their audience. Salvador Dal's Dream of Venus reveals not only an eccentric work of architecture, but also a one-of-a-kind creation by one of the most fertile imaginations of the 20th century.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press (29 Oct 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 156898359X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568983592
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 27.3 x 31.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,540,164 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Ingrid Schaffner is senior curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia. She is the author of several books, including Essential Series monographs on Picasso, Matisse, Warhol, and Man Ray. She lives in New York City.

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A small freestanding building, bristling with appendages and cast in crepuscular light, rises under a swag of red velvet. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Venus in purrs 29 Sep 2010
By Dr. Delvis Memphistopheles TOP 100 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Describes the collision of American carnie and burlesque sensibilities clashing with Euro mind exploration. All boiling to the head of a lobster pot during this world fair in 1939. As the exhibits turned into orphans whilst Hitler bestrode the world stage gobbling up the national identities in his quest for a Greater Reich, the fayre turned into a surreal expostion. Dali gradually made the change from bon vivant to fascist apologist and his imagination has always been tainted with collaboration.

Dali's house exhibit was a compromise between carnie land burlesque beauties diving in water tanks with the premise of exhibiting erotica and his desire of venus enraptured in dreams. This was the time of moral restraint, the Hays Code stifled sex in film, it was left to carnie land to bring the land of desire to the masses. Dali was chosen because he was a name, he could bring in the masses and he wanted to open up the art to them, a symbiosis.

Th topless girls sold sex whilst Dali sailed away in disgust back to disillusioned with mammon. A flirtation with Hitchcock and Disney provided a brief respite. Ousted from the surreal by Breton because of his showmanship, the man who sold art to the world.

The rooms were his homage to De Sade, Freud and Marx with hefty doses of Magritte. This is the exhibition in large plates of colour doused with black and white. It captures the house before 1940 when the exhibition lost its artistic pretensions and became pure carnie.

The book details the fighting amongst the backers, the owners of the site, the artistic in fighting as Dali took centre stage, his New York arrest for smashing a shop window and his surreal lock up with New York drunks finally rescued by a fellow spaniard before his evenual release.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quite possibly the world's coolest funhouse! 22 July 2003
By repelli - Published on
Though Dali would eventually disavow his "Dream of Venus" pavilion from the 1939 World's Fair (over those pulling the pursestrings interfering with his vision), its place in history was forever secured as one of the earliest "art installation exhibits", or alternatively the most amazing carnival funhouse ever devised.
Full of bizarre imagery pulled from Freudian psychology and the depths of Dali's own mind, visitors were treated to topless models cavorting in aquaria and other tableaux of surreal landscapes such as a 36-foot bed topped with lobsters baking on hot coals, a taxicab containing a rainstorm and Christopher Columbus, and an undersea mummified cow. Apparently a psychotic dream-rant by B-movie actress Ruth Ford played on endlessly in the darkness as well.
Schaffner gives a brief textual description of a walk-through of the pavilion, followed by a history of the exhibition's development. Schaal's recently discovered photographs are the primary illustrations; they document both the exhibit space as well as behind-the-scenes shots of the models in costume fittings and the construction of the pavilion.
The book, while fascinating, does leave one wanting more; certainly other photographs and film clips documenting the pavilion exist, possibly also of its rehab in 1940 as "20,000 Legs Under the Sea" (!), which would have been interesting in addition to the Schaal photos. Schaffner also very briefly quotes contemporary descriptions of the pavilion, lengthier passages would have been nice. It seems she is focusing on newly-discovered material, but since so little of the old material is easily available, its inclusion would have been well-justified.
All in all, though, a beautifully produced volume on a rare melding of high art and carnival culture, the likes of which will undoubtedly never be seen again. Highly recommended.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, Surreal Dream 4 May 2005
By A. Jacobus - Published on
I stumbled upon this book at a bookstore, and had to buy it. I have never seen anything like it, but what else would you expect from Dali. I would like to point out to the reviewer before me, that there is a reason that the photos look "pastellish". It was 1939, and color film was very new, and unstable. Even now color film is unstable. These negatives had been stored away for 70 years. Thats why the color photos seemed "washed out" as you put it. Even the last line of the book addresses that,we will never really see how Dali had envisioned his creation, because of the nature of color film. I find the colors to be very interesting, because of the fact they are not true to life, which for me makes the images that much more dreamlike. I find the book to be a beautiful edition, and would recommend to anyone interested in Dali, Surrealism, girlie shows, funhouses, and installation art. It's great to find things that you never knew existed. Amazon is great, but nothing can beat the good old used bookstore.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Limitations of the Medium 10 Oct 2004
By John P Bernat - Published on
It's a wonderful trip through the fantasy world of 1939. It's faded, though.

The reproductions available limit the viewability of the photos here. Everything is pastellish; you cannot believe that this was how Dali really made this exhibition. He was fond of splashy, bright color; the photography in this book looks very washed out.

That said, though, the reader is amazed to learn what 1939 viewers would tolerate by way of "explicit" sexuality. You have nude women in provocative positions to be viewed by the general public. How did this make it through pre-war censorship? Most likely because it was ART.

You won't seem images like this anywhere else. It is wonderful stuff, and a must for Dali fans.
4.0 out of 5 stars What An Amazing Book! 20 Mar 2014
By Raymond Honeycutt - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Salvador Dali created a surrealistic funhouse at the 1939 world fair complete with nude mermaids! Could this even be real??? Yes it was real and this incredible chronicle shows every aspect of the attraction in brilliant detail.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great insight 7 Oct 2011
By S. Fields - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The 1939 World's Fair was rich in cultural and historical significance. Salvador Dali was already an established persona. This book is great for anyone wanting to study the artist as well as anyone interested in that world's fair and it's times.
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