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Friday, April 8, 2016

Dalí in New York

By Anna Troester

Salvador Dalí made his mark across 20th-century Europe and the US with his unique body of work and eccentric personality. Best known for his Surrealist paintings—at once evocative, dreamlike, and bizarre—Dalí immersed himself in writing, sculpture, and graphic arts, as well as architecture, jewelry, and set design. He collaborated with well-known artists in the film, theater, photography, and fashion worlds, including Alfred Hitchcock, Luis Buñuel, Elsa Schiaparelli, Christian Dior, and Walt Disney.

The Spanish artist spent eight years in New York City during the 1940s, where he engaged with new ideas, worked with high-profile American artists and institutions, and heavily influenced a city that was growing into an international art center. During this time, Dalí collaborated with the choreographer Leonide Massine on the ballet Mad Tristan, inspired by Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. The artist’s striking hand-painted original backdrop is featured in Daniele Finzi Pasca’s La Verità, a physical theater tribute to Dalí himself, at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House May 4—7. After the jump, peruse some of Dalí’s activities in New York of the 1940s, with an emphasis on the theater.

Performing Arts

Dalí worked extensively in stage design for the ballet, participating in a number of international collaborations with companies including the Ballet Russe de Montecarlo, Ballet Espagnol, and Ballet International. Responding to new opportunities to craft experimental design for the ballet, Dalí joined the likes of modern artists Pablo Picasso, Leon Bakst, and Isamu Noguchi in this pursuit.

Dalí collaborated with choreographer Leonide Massine on three of his ballets: Bacchanale (1939), Labyrinth (1941), and Mad Tristan (1944), all of which premiered at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. For Bacchanale, in addition to an evocative Surrealist backdrop, Dalí also provided a libretto. For the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo performances of Labyrinth, Dalí designed an ominous decor featuring a massive bust, and designed the costumes and wrote the libretto based on the Theseus and Ariadne myth. Mad Tristan was inspired by Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, and a replica of Dalí’s backdrop for this production is featured in Daniele Finzi Pasca’s La Verità; the original was used in performances for several years.

Dalí at work. Photo: Formidable Magazine
Dalí collaborated on the 1944 productions of El Café de Chinitas by choreographer Argentinitas and Sentimental Colloquy with choreography by George Balanchine and André Eglevsky. For Ballet Espagnol’s 1949 production of The Three-Cornered Hat, which premiered at the Ziegfield Theater, his scenery and costumes complemented the Spanish dances choreographed by Ana Maria. Dalí’s theatrical collaborations for the ballet continued into the 1960’s, spanning over 20 years from his work on Bacchanale (1939) in New York to work on Maurice Béjart’s Gala (1961) in Venice.

He kept busy in many other genres; here are highlights:


MoMA showcased a major retrospective of Dalí’s work, which opened in November 1941. Dalí exhibited a solo show at the gallery of M. Knoedler and Company in Manhattan.


Alfred Hitchcock sought out Dalí to create dream sequences for his film Spellbound (1945).


Dalí collaborated with photographers Man Ray, Brassai, Cecil Beaton, and Philippe Halsman. With Halsman he produced the Dalí Atomica Series (1948), which was published in LIFE magazine and inspired by his in-process painting Leda Atómica (1949).

Dalí in his Dalí Atomica Series (1948).

Salvador Dalí wrote continuously during his time in New York. His novel, Hidden Faces (1944), tells the story of the loves and travails of a group of wealthy characters in 1930s Europe, against the backdrop of the rise of Hitler. The book includes Dalí’s own illustrations. He also wrote an autobiography, The Secret Life of Dalí (1942), and a nonfiction work, 50 Secrets of Magic (1948).


From 1941 to 1970, Dalí crafted 39 pieces of jewelry with the line originating in New York. The collection, DALÍ·JOIES, is currently on permanent view at the Dalí Theatre-Museum of Figueres in Spain.


Dalí worked with several fashion designers in his lifetime, contributing to collaborations such as this Gilbert Adrian dress (1947) for which Dalí created the textile.

Adrian Gilbert dress (1947). Photo: The Met
Anna Troester is the Marketing Assistant at BAM.

La Verità comes to the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House May 4—7, and great seats are still available.

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