Carried out at the very onset of the Second World War, the World’s Fair sought to illustrate a 'world of tomorrow', adopting a strong futuristic tonality demonstrating the most important advancements in technology, thought and science. Dalí, a pioneer in European Surrealism, used the fair as a stage on which to present his meticulous and persuasive visions through a truly Surrealist experience involving nude women adorned with costumes of seafood, live lobsters placed over genitalia, melting clocks and live performers dressed in intricate costumes designed by Elsa Schiaparelli.
In this study, we catch a glimpse of the surrealist house that the artist created in which pure geometric forms are brought to life as fleshy and amorphous figures; and the symbolic fourth wall crashes down through the perspectival illusion of the receding landscape, visible beyond the crumbling brick wall of the building. In typical fashion, Dalí’s figures cast long shadows, filling the landscape in a poetic allegory for special relativity in which the transcendence of space corresponds to a transcendence of time – a common theme present in the artist’s La Persistance de la mémoire of 1931, a surrealist idea inspired by watching camembert liquefying in the sun.
In the background, the artist presents a foreboding 'world of tomorrow' through the symbolic figure of William Tell, evident through the nebulously constructed crossbow atop the crumbling arches. Irking back to the artist’s L'Énigme de Guillaume Tell of 1933, in which Dalí identifies Lenin with the tyrannical folk hero, Dalí offers an ominous answer to the fair’s futuristic message: one that strongly resounds with the onset of the Second World War.
Most importantly, however, the artist addresses the figure of Venus, one of his earliest and favourite subjects. Robert Descharnes writes, ‘It was Venus he took apart and re-assembled in his carefully observed early paintings of women, in which the goddess is generally seen from the rear. He painted women in the style of Seurat, Picasso or Matisse; he painted them in his Cubist phase, in classical mood, in pre-Surrealist manner, and on, till the time came when his Venus invariably bore the features of Gala’ (Robert Descharnes & Gilles Neret, Salvador Dalí 1904-1989, The Paintings, Volume I, 1904-1946, Cologne, 1994, pp. 69-70). As the viewer is submerged into the pools of Dalí’s subconscious, Venus is present as the paragon of beauty, tantalising the depths of desire in her beauty, shape and form. Dalí presents Venus, wistful and fleeting, her visage hidden, for the artist believed that no face could adequately portray the archetype of feminine perfection. Venus is, however, graciously juxtaposed to his wife, Gala, who worked with the artist in the event, and whose name is rightfully inscribed on the artist’s monogram Gala S Dalí.
This uncanny celebration conceives reality as a formless representation, decomposing the symbols of desire amidst a turbulent global climate, and thus serves as a prime example of Dalí’s art, whilst showing commitment to innovation, dynamism and modernity.
This work is one of a pair of full-worked studies for the 1939 pavilion. Its sister work was sold at Sotheby's in New York, May 2018, for $325,000.
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