Lobster Telephone (also known as Aphrodisiac Telephone) is a Surrealist object, created by Salvador Dalí in 1936 for the English poet Edward James (1907–1984), a leading collector of surrealist art. In his book The Secret Life, Dalí wrote teasingly of his demand to know why, when he asked for a grilled lobster in a restaurant, he was never presented with a boiled telephone.
This is a classic example of a Surrealist object, made from the conjunction of items not normally associated with each other, resulting in something both playful and menacing. Dalí believed that such objects could reveal the secret desires of the unconscious. Lobsters and telephones had strong sexual connotations for Dalí. The telephone appears in certain paintings of the late 1930s such as Mountain Lake (Tate), and the lobster appears in drawings and designs, usually associated with erotic pleasure and pain. For the 1939 New York World's Fair, Dalí created a multi-media experience entitled Dream of Venus, which consisted in part of dressing live nude models in "costumes" made of fresh seafood, an event photographed by Horst P. Horst and George Platt Lynes. A lobster was used by the artist to cover the female sexual organs of his models. Dalí often drew a close analogy between food and sex. In Lobster Telephone, the crustacean's tail, where its sexual parts are located, is placed directly over the mouthpiece.
In 1935 Dalí was commissioned by the magazine American Weekly to execute a series of drawings based on his impressions of New York. One drawing was given the caption 'NEW YORK DREAM - MAN FINDS LOBSTER IN PLACE OF PHONE'. In the Dictionnaire Abrégé du Surréalisme of 1938, Dalí contributed an entry under 'TÉLÉPHONE APHRODISIAQUE' which is accompanied by a small drawing of a telephone, its receiver replaced by a lobster surrounded by flies. A similar drawing is printed in The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí which contains the following:
I do not understand why, when I ask for a grilled lobster in a restaurant, I am never served a cooked telephone; I do not understand why champagne is always chilled and why on the other hand telephones, which are habitually so frightfully warm and disagreeably sticky to the touch, are not also put in silver buckets with crushed ice around them.
Telephone frappé, mint-coloured telephone, aphrodisiac telephone, lobster-telephone, telephone sheathed in sable for the boudoirs of sirens with fingernails protected with ermine, Edgar Allan Poe telephones with a dead rat concealed within, Boecklin telephones installed inside a cypress tree (and with an allegory of death in inlaid silver on their backs), telephones on the leash which would walk about, screwed to the back of a living turtle ... telephones ... telephones ... telephones ...
Present location and exhibition
Dalí produced five examples of the color version of his telephone. One was on display at the Dalí Universe in London; a second can be found at the Museum für Kommunikation Frankfurt; another is owned by the Edward James Foundation; a fourth is at the National Gallery of Australia; and the fifth example is in the collection of Tate Modern, London.
Dalí also produced an off-white version of his telephone. Of the six known examples, one is owned by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; another by the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. A third example is held at Centro Cultural de Belém, in Portugal, and is owned by the art collector Joe Berardo. Another exemplar can be viewed at the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG) in Johannesburg, South Africa.
In March 2018, Arts minister Michael Ellis had put a temporary export ban on the Lobster Telephone, and if British artwork collectors would like to purchase it, the cost would be £850,000.
- Dalí, S. & Chevalier, H. (1993). The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí. Dover Publications: New York.
- Schaffner, Ingrid, Photogr. by Eric Schaal (2002). Salvador Dalí's "Dream of Venus" : the surrealist funhouse from the 1939 World's Fair (1. ed.). New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press. ISBN 978-1568983592.
- Lobster Telephone in the collection of Tate Liverpool, London. Accessed 27-01-2010.
- "Temporary export ban slapped on lobster phone to stop Salvador Dali artwork leaving UK". Sky News. 23 March 2018.