Monday, March 11, 2013

Covering Lolita - 185 Book and Media Covers

Lolita is famous, not I. I am an obscure, doubly obscure, novelist with an unpronounceable name”. Vladimir Nabokov’s comment in 1977 continues to be confirmed with the online ‘Covering Lolita’ exhibition detailing the 185 book and media covers since the publication of the scandalous first edition by French avant-garde publishers Olympia Press in 1955.

Compiled by Germany’s leading Nabokov expert Dieter Zimmer, the exhibition illustrates not only the pictorial aspect of Nabokov’s art but the extent of the ‘Lolita phenomenon’ (from the Japanese fashion craze, to perfumery [Marc Jacobs]). A highly-respected lepidopterist (the technical name for butterfly collector), Nabokov was also an art lover and his numerous butterfly drawings for his wife Vera, such as the one pictured here on The Annotated Lolita (Penguin, 2000), reveal a fragile and sensitive side to his often distorted public image.

Nabokov was affected by synaesthesia, a condition whereby a person has the sensory ability, for example, to ‘experience’ colours when reading words or to ‘see’ sounds. The condition seems to seep through his sumptuous written style containing wonderfully lucid description.

What is perhaps most remarkable about the exhibition is the disparity of the covers amassed over 56 years - ranging from coquettish, lollipop-holding girls to stocking-sporting women who seem well into maturity. Given reports of the hostility that Nabokov is receiving in Russia at the moment, this exhibition reminds us of just how pervasive, and contentious, Lolita remains in the public psyche. For more on the interplay between Nabokov and art, search the GSA Library catalogue for additional book and DVD resources.