Dali discovery jogs memories in the arts world
Ellen Baxter, chief conservator at the Carnegie Museum of Art, inspects Salvador Dali's 1942 stage curtain "Theseus Minotaur," which he painted for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, after it was unrolled in the Hall of Sculpture for the first time in late December.
Nicolas Petrov, professor of dance at Point Park University, used the curtain created by Salvador Dali for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in a ballet he created called, "Fantasia." The curtain was given to the Carnegie Museum of Art 33 years ago.
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Nicolas Petrov was shocked and happy to learn that the Carnegie Museum of Art still had the giant stage curtain painted by Salvador Dali in 1942 for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.
"I thought it was lost or destroyed," said Dr. Petrov, founding director of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and the man who transported the curtain from New York to Pittsburgh in a rented truck in 1976. Five years later, he was told that nobody knew where it was.
In fact, the enormous oil-on-canvas rendering of Theseus fighting the Minotaur had been rolled up in a museum storage closet since its acquisition more than 30 years ago. Chief curator Louise Lippincott got curious about it while researching another project relating art and dance, so the staff hauled it out and unfurled it last week to examine its condition and figure out how to display it.
Dr. Petrov, 77, was a leading dancer with the Ballet Russe from 1955 to 1967 and a protege of its choreographer, Leonide Massine. Dr. Petrov left the company and founded the PBT, where he was director from 1968 to 1977.
When Mr. Massine was emptying his Long Island house of its contents, he offered Dr. Petrov the curtain, or "drop," as in backdrop, designed for the Ballet Russe touring production of "Labyrinth." In exchange, Mr. Massine requested what Dr. Petrov calls "a donation."
Dr. Petrov said he went to industrialist Leon Falk Jr., husband of the PBT's founding chairwoman, Loti Falk, and a major patron of the ballet.
Mr. Falk, a big fan of Dali, gave Massine about $1,800 for the Minotaur. In return, Dr. Petrov offered Mr. Falk the curtain, and the two men joked about what to do with something so oversized.
"He couldn't hang it in his living room," Dr. Petrov said of the piece that is 10 feet higher than the museum's highest gallery wall.
Dr. Petrov, now a professor of dance at Point Park University, said he used the drop once, for the 1976 PBT production of "Fantasia" at Heinz Hall, which is captured on video. Soon afterward, Mr. Falk donated it to the Carnegie.
About five years later, Dr. Petrov called the museum about using the curtain for a revival of "Fantasia" at Point Park.
"They didn't know where it was," he said. "I thought I would not see it again."
He staged the ballet anyway using a projection of a different Dali painting, and didn't think much more about the curtain until reading about it in the Post-Gazette.
In the week since the story appeared, more information has emerged about the rediscovered work.
For one thing, the recorded dimensions were wrong. It was registered in the museum's records as roughly 26 1/2 feet high by 49 1/2 feet wide. But when workers measured it last week, it was about 10 feet narrower, according to Dr. Lippincott.
No, it didn't shrink, she said.
"I just think our records were very inaccurate. I don't know why."
In addition, the signature of Gala Salvador Dali, incorporating the name of Dali's wife, was not due to her input on the artistic work, as Dr. Lippincott had thought.
Instead, it was Dali's homage to Gala, his lifelong inspiration and muse, according to the publicity director of the original Salvador Dali Museum in Beachwood, Ohio (now relocated to St. Petersburg, Fla.),
"Gala was his leading model and many of the females in his paintings are, in fact, Gala," said Paul Chimera of Buffalo, N.Y.
"But she had no role in the conceptualization or execution of any of his work. He venerated her so much that he often signed his works Gala Salvador Dali or just Gala Dali, but it was strictly out of reverence for her. It was his way of linking them. He looked at them as inseparable. It was an important role," he said, but not a hands-on one.
She did, however, help with the handling of her husband's financial affairs, Mr. Chimera said.
News of the curtain's existence has created a stir in the art world, Dr. Lippincott said.
"There's a lot of excitement about it," she said. "We definitely want to do an exhibition at some point, so stay tuned."
Correction/Clarification: (Published Jan. 8, 2010) The original Salvador Dali Museum was in Beachwood, Ohio. This story as originally published Jan. 7, 2010 about the Dali stage curtain at Carnegie Museum misstated the city's name.
First Published January 7, 2010 12:00 am