“My work is a reflection, one of the innumerable reflections of what I accomplish, write, think”.
Venus, in Latin Venus, Venĕris, was the Roman goddess of love and beauty, the equivalent of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, born from the foam of the waters surrounding Cyprus (aphròs is the Greek word for foam). Her figure has been the personification of the ideal of beauty since ancient times and has been the subject of many art works, both sculptural, as in the “Venus of Milo” (130 BC), and pictorial, as in the famous “Birth of Venus” by Botticelli (c. 1482-1485).
Venus has inspired and still inspires many artists. In 1936 the American artist Man Ray created “Venus Restaurée” following the famous model of the Greek “Venus de’ Medici”. In the same year Salvador Dalí produced his Venus of Milo with Drawers, in bronze painted white. In May 2019, during the Art New York fair (Pier 94), presented by Art Miami, the Blue Gallery from Delray Beach (Florida) put on show a few sculptures by the Israeli sculptor Niso Maman - famous for being one of the leaders of the modern classic movement - which illustrate a woman’s torso following the model of classic Venus, made of steel and coloured metal.
In his Space Venus sculpture Salvador Dalí pays homage to the female figure and the attraction for female beauty, adding his favourite surreal elements. The basic content of the work is a female bust, which follows the canons of Classicism, with the addition of four Dalinian symbols: a melting clock, two ants, an egg and a separation of the body in two parts.
slides down the neck giving us two opposing messages. Its presence symbolizes, on one hand, the beauty of the flesh as temporary and destined to fade, and on the other, the beauty of art as eternal, and not bound by the passage of time. The characteristic Dalinian symbol of time is one of the protagonists of this sculpture. When asked the question “Why are they limp?”, Dalí answered: “Limp or hard is not important. The important thing is that they keep the right time”.
In this sculpture the hands of the clock point to twelve and six. It is interesting to note that all of Dalí’s clocks in the Dalí Universe Sculpture Collection have the hands in the self-same position. The clock in the “Space Venus” sculpture has the numbers five and eleven missing. Can it be that Dalí wanted thereby to give his birth date?
The clock that slides down the goddess’s neck shows us Dalí’s extraordinary capacity to transfer a simple action, seemingly accidental, like that of a drop of liquid dripping down a body, into his surreal artistic world. Dalí held that this action was able to generate “secret pleasure” and was a source of “philosophical emotions and thoughts”, as he said in his own words.
Dalí’s life was full of “profound mixtures of chance and delirious peculiarities”, themes that the Catalan artist subsequently brought to his pictorial and sculptural art. Since childhood Dalí had loved to be surprised - and to surprise others - by pouring milky coffee over his skin and noticing the slow drops of liquid which gradually dried and stuck to his skin.
Dalí wrote: “I spill coffee on my shirt […] Apart from the ineffable voluptuousness of the liquid trickling down to my navel, its gradual drying and then the material stickling to my skin gave me an opportunity for steady periodic observations”.
In the Space Venus sculpture, the clock leans on the neck of the goddess of beauty and seems like a drop of coffee dripping down to the centre of her bosom, that centre which Dalí defined: “there where I localized the potentiality of my religious faith”.
move to the abdomen bringing to the sculpture symbols of decay and putrefaction. In his infancy, Dalí had observed these insects with attention, feeling both attraction and repulsion. In his works, the presence of ants symbolize temporality, transience and the mortality of human life.
Ants for Dalí aroused the unconscious with their tickling, provoking thought, inviting meditation. They rest on the hand, as in the famous scene of the film Un chien andalou (1929), and on the womb of the Space Venus sculpture.
In complete contrast we have the flies - for Dalí “Mediterranean fairies”. It is clear from his writings that he loved and praised them: “Of all the hyper-sybaritic pleasures of my life, perhaps one of the most intense and most stimulating (and even without the perhaps) is, and will continue to be, that of lying in the sun covered by flies. Thus I might say: Suffer little flies to come unto me!”
The symbolism of the ant, as that of the clock, comes from Dalí’s experiences, which are fully described in his autobiography, where he gives a detailed accounts of bodies of birds alive and dying swarming with crazy ants, black spots which move in a particular order.
Ants for Dalí are the image of his first “false childhood memory”. Dalí used to say: “The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant”. In his infancy, while looking at the body of a newly born baby lying down face upwards, Dalí imagined that he saw it swarming with ants, but, as soon as the child was embraced, the dark shapeless mass disappeared leaving no trace of injury. Dalí wrote: “The child was once more put back into its original position. My curiosity to see the ants again was enormous, but I was surprised that they were no longer there, just as there was no longer a trace of a hole. This false memory is very clear, although I cannot localize it in time”.
There are many pictorial works that testify in artistic terms the Dalinian symbol of ants, for example Honey is sweeter than blood (1927), Portrait of Paul Eluard (1929), The enigma of desire – my mother (1929).
is a favourite Dalinian theme, given the duality of its hard exterior and soft interior. The Space Venus sculpture is divided into two parts, with an egg lying on the base created by the cut. A metaphor with positive value, the egg symbolizes life, renewal, the continuation of existence and the future.
The “egg” theme, a symbol of divine perfection, acquired an important role throughout the entire history of art, from Renaissance paintings to contemporary illustrations. In 1472 the Italian painter Piero della Francesca, whom Dalí referred to as a “triumph of absolute monarchy and of chastity”, represented an ostrich egg suspended over the head of the Virgin Mary, creating the pictorial work known as the Brera Altarpiece.
In 1969 the Spanish artist Joan Mirò, who had noticed the undeniable gifts of Dalì even before they blossomed (to the point that he wrote to Dalí’s father: “I am absolutely convinced that your son’s future will be brilliant”), placed a yellow egg on the round seat of a stool, creating the “Monsieur et Madame” sculpture.
Dalí transformed the egg into a true artistic icon: he was literally obsessed with eggs, to the extent of showing them in many of his works and making them an active part of his life shared with Gala. “Lay an egg for me!” Dalí asked Gala on those days when a “soft-boiled egg and some biscuits” could have an effect on the paranoiac-critical method, as reported in his autobiography: “to add the necessary albumen for the hatching of all the invisible and imaginary eggs I carried throughout the afternoon over my head – eggs so similar to the egg of Euclidian perfection that Piero della Francesca suspended over the head of the Virgin. That egg to me became the sword of Damocles, which only the tele-despatched growls of the infinitely tender little lion (I speak of Gala) prevented all the time from falling and splitting my skull”.
The separation of the body...
in two parts appears as a horizontal cut. While in the screenplay of the film Un chien andalou, Dalí chose to illustrate the emblematic scene of the eye cut in two, with a frame now known as one of the most terrifying in the history of cinema, in this sculpture the Catalan artist, after inviting the observer to focus on the melting clock and the grating ants, pierces the belly of the goddess of beauty and invites the viewer to look at its interior, where an egg is shown in perfect balance.
Dalí said: “The only difference between immortal Greece and our era is Sigmund Freud”, who had discovered that the human body contains “infinite secret drawers that only psychoanalysis is capable of opening”. The Catalan artist perfectly illustrated this Freudian concept in the Woman Aflame sculpture: the drawers on the woman’s body hide the secrets, dreams and obsessions that spring from her unconscious. The “woman with drawers” theme is recurrent in Dalí’s artistic production, presenting itself in its innumerable formal and symbolic variants.
While in the bronze work Woman Aflame, the secret drawers are half-closed and do not allow their contents to be completely seen by the observer, in the Space Venus sculpture it is not the drawer to be shown but its secret contents. There are no bronze or fur-covered knobs, no semi-open or open fronts letting a bright red piece of fabric out. With Space Venus Dalí decided to represent the content instead of the container: the inside of the drawer with a bronze egg on its base.
Over the past 30 years, the monumental sculptures of The Dalí Universe Collection have been displayed in the most important cities of the world, including Rome, London, Beijing, Singapore, Sydney and Hong Kong. The monumental version of the Space Venus sculpture, standing nearly four metres tall, was shown for the first time in 1994 at the Opernplatz, the central square of the city of Frankfurt, (Germany). In 2018 the Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art in St. Petersburg exposed the monumental work inside the museum, on the occasion of the “Salvador Dalí Sculptures” exhibition.
Next Saturday, the 18th of May, the monumental sculpture Space Venus will be “unveiled” and presented to the public in Canada, in the city of Vancouver, thanks to the collaboration between The Dalí Universe and the “Art in the City” company, within the “Definitely Dalí ” project. This project has made it possible to create free access to works of art and to involve and make an ever-growing public sensitive to the world of art through the exposition of world-famous works in the urban areas of cities around the globe.
The Dalinian symbolic elements that are present in the Space Venus sculpture confirm Dalí's extraordinary ability to elaborate emotions, experienced during his childhood, together with Gala, in order to transfer them into pictorial and sculptural art. Dalí stated: “My work is a reflection, one of the innumerable reflections of what I accomplish, write, think”.
Diary of a Genius, Salvador Dalí, 1963
The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, Salvador Dalí, 1942
Dada e Surrealismo Dal Nulla al Sogno, edited by Marco Vallora, 2018
Catalogue Raisonné of Salvador Dalí Paintings (https://www.salvador-dali.org)