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White Aphrodisiac Telephone

White Aphrodisiac Telephone

Salvador Dalí (in 1936)

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The British collector Edward James not only had many paintings and drawings by his hero Dalí, but he also asked him to design objects for use in his home. One of them was this famous telephone with a lobster receiver - a creepy fantasy that did not exactly make taking a call or ringing someone up a more enjoyable experience.

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Collection book

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Specifications

Title White Aphrodisiac Telephone
Material and technique Telephone, plaster, paint and cord
Object type
Telephone > Forms of information and communication > Utensil
Location This object is in storage

Author Marijke Peyser

Commissioned by his patron Edward James, and with his assistance, Salvador Dalí designed a number of Surrealist telephones with a plaster lobster in place of the receiver.[1] These objects are made of different parts put together that have nothing to do with each other: a telephone and a crustacean. This was how the Surrealists created new, surprising realities. James maintained that the idea for making this object came from seeing a rather spoilt woman having breakfast in bed. Just as the lobster was being served the telephone rang. By mistake she picked up the lobster.[2] Like many anecdotes this one also seems to be too good to be true.

Dalí’s lobster telephones were a new, playful approach. In his autobiography he wrote, ‘I don’t understand why they never bring me a well-cooked telephone when I order a grilled lobster, why they don’t chill telephone receivers, which are always so warm and sticky, along with the champagne, for they would always be better in a bucket of crushed ice.’[3] Another extract from Dalí’s autobiography – the part describing the years when he had no money and got to know ‘Le tout Paris’ (c. 1929-33) – has a more convincing biographical significance. Gala helped the intensely shy Dalí, as he described himself, to acquire a persona: ‘Life could have made me as hard as stone, but Gala made me ​​the shell of a hermit crab, so good that in my contacts with the outside world I passed for a fortress, while inside I remained soft, super-soft’.[4]

The lobster also took off commercially. In the spring of 1937 Dalí designed fabrics with a lobster motif for the fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli.[5] When the fabric was transformed into elegant evening wear – the enormous lobster was ‘front and centre’ – Dalí recommended wearing the gown with a good dollop of mayonnaise. In 1939, as part of the New York World’s Fair, he designed the Dream of Venus pavilion in which almost naked living ‘sculptures’ were on display alongside lobster sculptures and paintings. He described it as follows: ‘for the sum of 25 cents the public gets to see a ten-minute show. Monsieur Dalí refuses to provide further details, except to say that it will be one of the most talked-about events of the age: a three-dimensional spectacle performed by living beings dressed in costumes designed by Dalí himself ’.[6]

 

Footnotes

[1] Paris/Madrid 2012-13, p. 180. We know of eleven examples: four red and seven white.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Dalí 1952, p. 303.

[4] Ibid., pp. 350-51.

[5] Philadelphia 2003, pp. 123, 134-45.

[6] Paris 1980, p. 76. 

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