The David Lomas-curated Fruitmarket exhibition is an effective reflection of the nature of vanity
Don McLean got it right in his 1972 song ‘Narcisissima’: ‘Narcissima, Narcisissma is the pride of Pomona/Pomona, Pomona says she looks like me/But she will look like you when I’m set free.’ Narcissus of Greek myth and his Freudian descendant have long been rich pickings for artist, writers and limerick scribes; it has only ever been a matter of courage to glance into that reflection at the same time.
This muscular and surprising exhibition, curated by noted scholar David Lomas, brings together those surrealist and contemporary artists who not only dared look down into the water but who then allowed amour-propre to take hold of their work, if only for a short period.
The opening space is contextualised by the influential October 1943 issue of View magazine (with the brilliant strap line: ‘You Carry the Weight of Narcissus’). Those you would expect to be here are, and it’s great to marvel again at Cecil Beaton’s outstanding ‘The Narcissus of 67’ and his portrait of the prosperously vain Edward James alongside Claude Cahun’s stunning self portraits, and then there’s those amazing legs by that remarkable ‘maker of objects’ and tragic fetishist Pierre Molinier. Jean Cocteau’s seminal film Orphee is, of course, given house room, but it’s Willard Maas’ very rarely seen 1956 film Narcissus that is the real find here, with its preposterous smoking erect chimneys and street-comber chic.
Salvador Dali’s ‘Metamorphosis of Narcissus’ and Jess’s pencil on paper and paste masterpiece ‘Narkissos’ and their connected ephemeras rightly jostle for space in the remaining parts of the downstairs gallery.
Upstairs the myth is brought full circle with Pipilotti’s pleasingly vulgar audio video installation ‘Sip My Ocean’ and the globular genius of Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Narcissus Garden’. Narcissus is finally multiplied and dispersed and he will go to the ball.
Fruitmarket, Edinburgh until Sun 26 Jun.