Fantasies and Freak Shows: Salvador Dalí’s Dream of Venus and the 1939 New York World’s Fair


  • Keri Watson University of Central Florida


Although the Surrealists’ adoption of classical subjects is often read as a modernist challenge to aesthetic idealism and bourgeois values, Dream of Venus, Salvador Dalí’s contribution to the 1939 New York World’s Fair, reinforced normative codes of behavior by enfreaking the broken body of Venus. By exploring Dalí’s extensive use of crutches, masks, and other prosthetics at the World Fair, this article extends the study of Dalí beyond conventional art historical limits into disability studies to examine the ways in which Dream of Venus traded on the fantasy of the carnivalesque to reaffirm the privileged status of white, able-bodied men. As it shows, Dalí’s Dream of Venus conflated fantasy and reality to perform the role of a burlesque freak show.

Author Biography

Keri Watson, University of Central Florida

Keri Watson is an associate professor of art history at the University of Central Florida and co-executive editor for Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art. She is the author, with Keidra Daniels Navaroli, of This Is America: Re-Viewing the Art of the United States (2022) and co-editor, with Timothy W. Hiles, of The Routledge Companion to Art and Disability (2022). She has published on artists including Eudora Welty, Margaret Bourke-White, Walt Disney, Judy Chicago, and Patricia Cronin, in journals and anthologies including: Eudora Welty, Whiteness, and Race; Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature; the Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies; Museums and Social Issues; the Eudora Welty Review; the Journal of Museum Education; Disability and Art History; and Disability and Art History from Antiquity to the Twenty-first Century. Her work has been recognized and supported by a Fulbright Fellowship and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Society for the Preservation of American Modernists.