Exhibition of Dalí's set and costume designs for a Visconti Shakespeare play opens at the Castle of Púbol

Rome, 1948: artist Savador Dalí and director Luchino Visconti, introduced by Coco Chanel, collaborate on a unique rendition of Shakespeare´s pastoral play ‘As You Like It’. The exhibition ‘Dali, Shakespeare, Visconti’ features photos and material from the scenography of the staging, and is on exhibition at the Castle of Púbol, a town in the region of Girona in Catalonia. The exhibition, which was also created in commemoration of the 400-year anniversary of Shakespeare´s death in 1616, will run from Tuesday the 15th of March until the 6th of January.

Visitors at the Dalí exhibition (by Tània Tapia, ACN)
Visitors at the Dalí exhibition (by Tània Tapia, ACN) / ACN


March 15, 2016 07:05 PM

Púbol (CNA) .- An exhibition showcasing artist Salvador Dalí´s lesser-seen side as a costume and set designer was inaugurated at the Castle of Púbol, a Catalan town on the Girona coast. The 2016 temporary exhibition will explore the relationship between Salvador Dalí, the English playwright Shakespeare, and the Italian director Visconti. In 1948, the surrealist artist had just returned to Europe from the United States, where he had fled the war. Just as Dalí was arriving in Italy to study classic writers, renowned film director Luchino Visconti´s career took a turn, as he changed his focus from film to theatre. Visconti´s project was to produce the Shakespeare comedy ‘As You Like It’, which he eventually realised with the help of Dalí himself. This year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare´s death, and the Gala-Dalí Foundation has collected all of the art and material from the Dalí-Visconti collaboration on the Shakespeare play in commemoration.

The Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation has chosen to dedicate this year´s temporary exhibition, shown at the Púbol Castle, to the connection that the year 1948 saw between Salvador Dalí and award-winning Italian film and theatre director Luchino Visconti. The year 1948 was witness to a collaboration between the two artists, when they worked together to stage a performance of ‘As You Like It’, by William Shakespeare. According to the foundation, this partnership represents an important moment in the history of western theatre. Quite appropriately, 2016 also marks the 400th year anniversary of the English playwright´s death.

The origins of the exhibition can be traced back to Rome, in 1948. Dalí had just ended his self-imposed exile to the United States, and he and his wife Gala moved back to Europe, arriving in Portugal. Soon after, he decided to move to Italy in order to dedicate himself to studying Italian classical literature. At the same time, cinema director Luchino Visconti made an abrupt change in his career. In a transition from the medium of film to theatre, he decided he wanted to produce Shakespeare´s famous pastoral comedy. As the director of the Dalí Museum explains, the Italian director was already determined to entrust his set and costume design to an internationally renowned figure.

It was that then Visconti´s right-hand, Franco Zeffirelli, became involved. The director´s assistant knew French designer Coco Chanel, who in turn spoke to him about Salvador Dalí. It was through Chanel that Dalí and Visconti would then meet and, subsequently, begin working together. Zeffirelli is still alive today, and the curator of the exhibition, Lucia Moni, was able to visit him to discuss details and aspects of that time in order to better contextualise the exhibition.

An investigative work

The exhibition ‘Dalí, Shakespeare, Visconti’ is a collection of original photographs from the Shakespeare performance in Rome, which would run for one month. The aforementioned material was archived in the Centre for Dalinian Studies, However, a diligent investigation was necessary to sort the 29 pictures by the three acts of the play. Additionally, after all these years, the actors needed to be identified. Names belonging to preeminent Italian actors of the time are listed among those of the participants, including Marcello Mastroianni and Vittorio Gassman. Also added to the exhibition is a small audio-visual broadcast aired in 1987, in which the two aforementioned actors reminisce about anecdotes from the staging.

Among the photographs on display, one shows director Visconti sitting and looking through the set design sketches created by Dalí. Also shown is a single colour photograph of one of the scenes of the play. Curator Lucia Moni explains that many of the most representative elements of Salvador Dalí´s art, such as elephants with insect-like legs carrying an obelisk, were present in his set design. This can also be seen in the photographs on display at the exhibition.

“From Dalí, Visconti wanted that theatrical and dreamlike world that he so represents”, explained director of the Dalí Museums, Montse Aguer. The scenography also included three sheep: Dalí became obsessed with having live ones for the performance, explains Aguer. It even went as far as Gala having to go to Rome to find the animals. Ultimately, though, those which appeared in the play were stuffed, although they were equipped with a mechanism that opened their mouth and allowed the mounted animals to make a few small movements.

Among all the material, the exhibition also includes a copy of the deluxe edition playbill from 1948, with drawings and explanations of the set and the costumes. Additionally, one can read a facsimile of a handwritten letter in which Dalí gives Visconti directions on the staging.

The exhibition, which was officially opened last Friday, will run from Tuesday the 15th of March until the 6th of January; it will be shown at the Castle of Púbol, which Dalí bought in 1969 and renovated as a home for Gala. The castle, also known as Gala Dalí Castle, later became Dalí´s studio and is now a museum dedicated to the artist.

Minister of Culture Santi Vila was also present at the inaugural event; the government official lauded the foundation´s role in “continuing to awaken interest in Dalí on a global scale”, also praising its model. While the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation is somewhat dependent on the participation of the government, it remains a private entity. This, according to Vila, accomplishes the Foundation´s objective to diffuse and protect Dalí’s legacy very well. What´s more, the Minister added, with this exhibition the foundation is taking part in the tendency of “revisiting” old classics.