Dali’s Nightclub Design Wonderfully Impractical!
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
The might-have-been’s in Salvador Dali’s colorful career are fascinating. He would have been an emperor in the classic movie, “Dune,” were it not for his salary demands that were too rich for director Alexander Jodorowsky’s blood. His idea to erect a large model of a woman with a fish’s head – an apparently blasphemous twist on the iconic “Birth of Venus” by Botticelli – was squashed by the 1939 World’s Fair moguls whose injunction derailed Dali’s original idea for his pavilion.
And, perhaps most outrageous of all, was Dali’s ill-fated design for a nightclub in Acapulco, Mexico.
Dali received a commission in 1957 to design a nightclub, and presumably he had, if not carte blanch, at least a wide swath of artistic license. Still, the Surrealist master’s concept was also too rich for this paymaster’s blood – one Cesar Balsa, Mexican owner of the St. Regis Hotel in New York and a friend of Dali.
A May 4, 1958 New York Times story about the project opened with this lead, dateline Mexico City:
“Salvador Dali, the bizarre Catalan painter, appears to be on the way toward invading Mexican art, which in its day had its own full share of the bizarre. Dali’s invasion is through his designs for a fantastic night club at Acapulco.”
The new entertainment complex was to be called Dali Noche, and it was a wild idea to say the least. Let me share what the late Robert Descharnes – Dali’s friend and biographer – and his son, Nicolas, wrote about this unusual undertaking:
“The proposed night club was to be named ‘Dali Noche’: the cabaret would be a gigantic sea urchin with space for about 500 people. The seat cushions would breathe through a pneumatic system, representing the delicacy of delicacies for Dali, the edible part of the sea urchin. The guests would arrive in its interior via an elevator incorporated into the ‘digestive tube.’
“The urchin itself, supported by an ensemble of four gigantic fly legs, would be drawn toward the sea by 25 giraffes in rock, each one 15 meters high. These giraffes, each one alight, would illuminate the entire complex; the two first would be submerged for those guests who might wish to go swimming in the night.”
In the first-ever biography of Dali, author Fleur Cowles wrote in 1959, “Dali’s capacity for inventions has achieved such worldwide fame that he was even asked ‘by Mexico’ (as he puts it) to Dalinize Acapulco, the playground of the rich in the southwestern end of Mexico on the Pacific.” Cowles envisioned that the conception would surely have been “a constructional nightmare …to technicians.”
Needless to say, the outrageous surrealist project – which Dali had once declared to Balsa would be “the eighth wonder of the world” – was never realized, though I’ve often imagined its existence and the sensation it would have created!
Cowles summed it up well: “Like everything else he does, Dali cannot invent the practical; the object must be Dalinian – which means it is often synonymous with the impossible.”