Long before installation art was the norm, Salvador Dali created perhaps the first example at the 1939 World’s Fair that was held in Flushing Meadows in Queens, New York.
The 1939 World’s Fair sounds incredible. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Albert Einstein spoke, Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” and the Magna Carta were on display, Westinghouse buried a time capsule to be open in 6939 AD (some contents include writings by Einstein and Thomas Mann, a pack of Camel cigarettes, microfilm with texts, seeds and a Mickey Mouse watch). The fair debuted color photography, nylon, air conditioning, the View-Master and Smell-o-Vision, and had “zones” debuted “future technologies” by companies like GM and Frigidaire.
Dali’s pavilion was entitled “Dream of Venus,” and was a surrealist dream world. Patrons entered through a pair of women’s legs (John Malkovich copied this for his Lisbon Nightclub called “Lux”- it is a weird place), and purchased tickets from a fish head booth. Dali designed two pools where topless sirens and mermaids swam about, women dressed as pianos and lobsters cavorted amongst paintings and props in front of a giant four paneled painting by Dali, and other tableaus with costumes designed by Dali.
Sadly, creative compromise happened even then. The fair organizers made major modifications to Dali’s original ideas, which caused him to dramatically write a pamphlet called, “Declaration of the Independence of the Imagination and the Rights of Man to His Own Madness.”