News. Transgressing Venus. The new exhibition of the Dalí Theatre-Museum

Figueres, 27th October, 2022

The Dalí Theatre-Museum presented the new temporary exhibition entitled Transgressing Venus. Dalí is classic, Surrealist and Pop Art! The event was led by Montse Aguer, director of the Dalí Museums, and Laura Bartolomé, curator of the exhibition and of the Dalí Foundation.

One of the interesting aspects in this exhibition is the way the sculpture Venus de Milo with Drawers is shown. This work of art belongs to the Art Institute of Chicago's permanent collection. This institution has lent it to the Dalí Foundation as a digital loan. In order to present it together with the Dalí Foundation's Venus, a hologram has been produced and is shown thanks to a transparent LG OLED screen. This technical solution aims at paying tribute to the holograms Dalí produced in the seventies in collaboration with the Nobel Prize in Physics Dennis Gabor. Apart from the 2 sculptures on show, one physical and one digital, the exhibition includes a painting, 3 drawings, 1 piece of workshop material, 15 photographs, 3 leaflets, 2 magazines, 2 books and a fragment of the film entitled Autoportrait mou.

Dalí as nexus between Classicism, Surrealism and Pop Art

The exhibition, which can be seen from today until next Autumn, allows us to see Dalí's most important subject matters concerning the Venus de Milo and the importance of this Hellenistic sculpture throughout his artistic career. It also analyses Dalí's interpretation of it in the sixties, placing it as a precedent for Pop Art. As Montse Aguer points out, together with the obsession for the painting Angelus by Millet, Venus de Milo serves Dalí to develop his paranoid critical method of interpretation of reality. Venus de Milo with Drawers is one of the pieces incorporated by Dalí to his Theatre-Museum.

A last-generation technology for a digital loan

The bronze statue of Venus de Milo with Drawers that belongs to the Dalí Foundation is exhibited inside a glass case confronted to its American homonymous. This one as a holographic creation that is shown thanks to the emerging technology of an OLED transparent screen. This type of screen allows to show holographic images with high resolution, brightness, and contrast. The device is one of the first units of this pioneering technology, which is expected to evolve exponentially in the near future. High resolution images have been granted by the Art Institute of Chicago. The holographic technic has been produced by a company called tururut Art Infogràfic and the OLED screen provided by LG firm.

With this digital loan, the Dalí Foundation wants to express its commitment with introducing technology in the exhibition premises, with preservation and conservation of original works of art and sustainability regarding international work loans.

Transgressing Venus. Dalí is Classic, Surrealist and Pop Art!

In his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, the artists states: "My Surrealist glory was worthless. I must incorporate Surrealism in tradition. My imagination must become classic again". Most probably, he refers retrospectively to the end of 1936, when his fame as an artist grew considerably in Europe but especially in the USA. Time magazine published a portrait of him by Man Ray on its December cover. This image surely becomes the symbolic starting point of a new beginning that separates him from the surreal environment of Paris and also from Europe.

Jennifer Cohen, assistant curator of Research of the Art Institute of Chicago, states: "Dalí invested himself with the responsibility of spearheading a second renaissance, which would call upon the enduring qualities of classical art, while embracing the inventions of psychoanalysis. In his autobiography, a related illustration titled 'New Flesh' punctuates a section describing his turn to classicism, where he writes, 'I had now to begin to fight for a thing that was "important." This important thing was to render the experience of my life "classic," to endow it with a form, a cosmogony, a synthesis, an architecture of eternity". In addition to these psychologically resonant assemblage-based objects, he was crafting 'new flesh,' an ambition with range far beyond Surrealism.

Venus de Milo with Drawers is a plaster statue that recalls, on a reduced scale, the original work, which has been displayed in the Louvre Museum of Paris since 1821. Dalí transgressed the classical reference by perforating the body of Venus with six drawers that can be opened and closed. These are elements which, as he himself declares, can only be understood through psychoanalysis: "Because the only difference between immortal Greece and the contemporary era is Sigmund Freud who discovered that the human body, which was purely neoplatonic in the time of the Greeks, is now full of secret drawers that only psychoanalysis can reveal". Is it possible that his desire to transgress was a response to an intention to accommodate the ideal of the classical world to the reality of his present, which is to say, that of the 1930s?

Drawers are part of his most genuine iconography. They already appear in his 1929 paintings. The hatch, however, in 1936, coinciding with the creation of this sculpture which the artist places in the context of the Spanish Civil War. In his Unspeakable Confessions, we read: "The chaos in Spain undid me, and the monsters of civil war found their way on to my canvases [...]. My paranoia-critical system was going full blast. In the depths of despair, I continued to paint, turning vertigo into virtue. I produced the Vénus de Milo aux tiroirs (Venus with Opening Drawers) ...". Regarding this statement, Laura Bartolomé wonders if "the artist conceived the drawers as enablers for exploring the subconscious of a society that, far from the classical ideal embodied by the Venus de Milo, had been plunged into civil war?".

The presence of the two keys with the Venus de Milo with Drawers in 1939 at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York is probably ephemeral. In fact, there is no sign that they were part of the work of 1936, and neither are they found again later. Transitory addition to an already finished work is a practice that Dalí engaged in during the 1930s. The result of this is an ephemeral work that only exists for the duration of its public exhibition. For study purposes, this particular creation is identified as a version of, or variation on the original work, which is to say the Venus de Milo with Drawers of 1936.

Shortly after Salvador Dalí presented this sculpture at the Julien Levy Gallery in 1939, he created the Dream of Venus, a pavilion for the New York World's Fair. He planned a façade featuring a large Aphrodite with a fish head. After the Fair's organising committee eventually refused to allow Dalí to use this image, it became one of the reasons that led him to publish his manifesto, Declaration of the Independence of the Imagination and the Rights of Man to His Own Madness.

Some years later, in 1964, Dalí did a limited edition in bronze of the Venus de Milo with Drawers. It is probable that he agreed to replicate the sculpture in response to a growing demand for the work to be shown in international exhibitions. In fact, the Venus de Milo with Drawers has been part of almost all the Dalí retrospectives: in Japan the same year (1964), then in New York (1965), Amsterdam (1970), and also the Centre Pompidou in Paris (1979).

As a new touch, Dalí added a fur pompom to each of the six drawers of the 1939 Venus. The precise intention that led him to introduce these elements-which, however, represent a new transgression-is unknown. Whatever the case, Dalí added the pompoms to all the casts except one, namely that reserved for the Dalí Theatre-Museum, which is identified with the inscription 'Exemplaire Gala Dali'. It is highly likely that, with this gesture, he wanted to distinguish this cast from the other bronzes, thus turning it into a certain kind of unique work.

Jennifer Cohen interprets the pompon addition in the following way: "This addition brought a range of historical and contemporary references to the object's classical subject, not only recalling Meret Oppenheim's Object (called Lunch in Fur by André Breton) and the ermine fingernails of Dalí's Bonwit Teller mannequin with a head of roses but also anticipating the artist's later illustrations for Leopold Sacher-Masoch's Venus in Furs in 1970.

Fittingly, this historical leap, according to Cohen, was made "through an intervention that might be described as a fashionable adornment, suddenly making Dalí's 1936-from the additive procedures of the surrealist object to its interpretation in shop windows-relevant once again and transforming the fragile and aging work to meet its moment in the visual culture of the early 1960s".

In November 1964, Dalí appeared before the Spanish national TV cameras to present the project of his future museum, declaring that he would fill it with 'the most shocking examples of what is now called Pop Art. For example, on one of the balconies there will be six sculptures of the Venus de Milo, all of them, of course, with their respective drawers more or less sunk into their visceral depths.' Although, in fact, this particular project never came to fruition, it is yet another example of the sculpture's conversion into Pop and its overlapping with his museum, his last great work. Moreover, in Autoportrait mou de Salvador Dalí, a film shot by Jean-Christophe Averty in 1966, Dalí declared before the camera that his Venus de Milo with Drawers is 'a lesson for Pop artists'. In his Prologue to Gaudí, the Visionary, which was originally published in French in 1969, he even identifies his Venus as a forerunner of Pop Art.

At the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, visitors starting to walk through this space after leaving the Mae-West room find a particular series of works. These include the Retrospective Bust of a Woman 1933/1976-1977, one of Dalí's main surrealist objects; the niche with the Venus de Milo with Drawers 1936/1964; an installation devoted to Millet's The Angelus and, accordingly, to Dalí's paranoiac-critical method; the reconditory reserved for Poetry of America a painting from 1943 in which Surrealism is still pointedly present. Yet, without a doubt, the most surprising thing is his anticipation of Pop Art, approached with his representation of a Coca-Cola bottle. on the other side of the semicircle, visitors cross a space devoted to Moses and Monotheism, a clear tribute to the work by Freud.

The blending of classicism, surrealism, psychoanalysis, and Pop Art that Dalí might have organised in this space is the same as that which he condenses in his Venus de Milo with Drawers. And all of this endures in his particular Olympus, his Dalí Theatre Museum, his last great work of art which is also the repository of his immortality. 

Digital publication

The digital publication includes texts by Montse Aguer, Laura Bartolomé and Jennifer Cohen of the Art Institute of Chicago. It can be downloaded from the Dalí Foundation's website in 4 languages: Catalan, Spanish, French and English. There is also a specific section on the website devoted to this show.


The exhibition can be seen today 27 October until next Autumn in the Logies Room at the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres.

The design of the show is by Pep Canaleta of 3carme33. Graphism is by Alex Gifreu.