Salvador Dali

From April 22 to June 26, 2011 – Fruitmarket Gallery

The myth of Narcissus, as told by Ovid, of a beautiful youth infatuated by his reflection in a stream, who pines away and is metamorphosed into a flower, is open to many interpretations and has captivated a, perhaps surprising, number of modern and contemporary artists. This group exhibition examines the potency of the Narcissus myth in art, photography, installation, film and video. From Salvador Dalí’s painting Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937) to Pipilotti Rist’s video installation Sip My Ocean (1996), the exhibition keeps in play the full variety of meanings of the myth, exploring, and seeking to explain, the enduring appeal of the Narcissus subject in art.

In surrealism, the use of the Narcissus myth reflects a preoccupation with myth in general, and Freudian psychoanalysis (in which the concept of narcissism plays a central part). Forming the centrepiece of the exhibition, Salvador Dalí’s famous painting is shown for the first time alongside the manuscript of the artist’s poem of the same name, and preparatory drawings showing the evolution of the work. A counterpoint to Dalí’s use of the Narcissus myth is San Francisco- based artist Jess’, Narkissos (1976–91). This major work references the fin-de-siècle, a period which saw the introduction of the term ‘narcissism’ to psychology. Jess’ principally collage practice was inspired by Max Ernst and surrealism, but also shares affinities with Pop and appropriation art. While his works are in major public collections in the United States, he has rarely been shown outside his home country and this is an opportunity to introduce his work to UK audiences through his most outstanding, and best-known, work. It also shows the legacy of surrealism in contemporary art, and the ongoing potency of the Narcissus myth to artists.

The exhibition also includes a selection of surrealist photography and film, exploring ideas of doubling of the self, mirroring and reflection, which all relate clearly to the Narcissus myth. These ideas are restaged in Yayoi Kusama’s immersive installation Narcissus Garden of 1966, whose kaleidoscopic techniques of fusion, duplication and distortion of the body chime with the work of Pipilotti Rist and, like that work, are reminiscent of surrealist engagement with Narcissus.

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