An enormous stage curtain created by Salvador Dali for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo was unfurled yesterday at the Carnegie Museum of Art for the first time since the museum acquired it 33 years ago. The purpose: to evaluate its condition, photograph it for the museum's internal use and figure out how to display it.
The work is so huge it had to be laid flat on the marble floor of the Hall of Sculpture. Measuring 26 1/2 feet high by 49 1/2 feet wide, it is almost 10 feet higher than the museum's tallest gallery ceiling.
"It's spectacular," said Louise Lippincott, the Carnegie's chief curator. "It's in amazing condition for something that's been rolled up in a dark closet since 1976."
The curtain was a gift from Leon Falk Jr. It is from the 1942 Ballet Russe production of "Labyrinth," based on the Greek myth of Theseus, who killed the evil Minotaur and escaped from the monster's lair by following yarn woven by the beautiful Ariadne.
Painted in black oil on beige canvas, it depicts a struggle between the Minotaur and Theseus, who has a knife in his hand.
"It looks like a really large drawing in pen and ink, with some light colored highlights and one strip of an intense light blue to represent water," said Dr. Lippincott. "It's a very classic Dali with the imagery and brush strokes."
The work is signed by the artist's wife, Gala Salvador Dali, and dated 1942. Dr. Lippincott said that was typical for the couple because she did a lot of the production and design. Salvador Dali, she noted, did paintings for nine ballets.
"Labyrinth" was choreographed by Leonide Massine to the music of Franz Shubert. It toured the country under impresario Sol Hurok, and appeared in Pittsburgh in 1942, although Dr. Lippincott was still checking on the exact location.
Massine gave the curtain to Mr. Falk. It first went to the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, then to the Carnegie in October 1976 with the understanding that the ballet could use it should the need arise.
"I don't think that would be a good idea," said Dr. Lippincott. "It would probably shred."
The next step is figuring out how and where to display it. It could be left on the floor of the Sculpture Hall and roped off so that people could look down on it from the balcony. Or it could be hung in that room, which is two stories high.
"You have to be able to stand back from it," Dr. Lippincott said.
Correction/Clarification: (Published Dec. 30, 2009) Impresario Sol Hurok brought the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo on tour to Pittsburgh in 1942. His first name was misspelled in this story as originally published Dec. 29, 2009 about the ballet's Salvador Dali stage curtain at the Carnegie Museum of Art.
Sally Kalson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1610.