Yasumasa Morimura likes to dress up. With the primary tool of identity appropriation, the fifty-something male, Japanese artist likes to transform himself into art historical, political and pop culture icons ranging from the Mona Lisa to Brigitte Bardot. His work seems to be omnipresent these days: The Contemporary Museum here in Honolulu owns his self portrait as Marilyn Monroe, and I had the pleasure of seeing his installation after Goya's Caprichos, in addition to his dual-screened video appropriation of an Adolf Hitler speech, at the Prospect.1 art biennial in New Orleans this past November. Most recently, his work Ambiguous Beauty is on display as part of the Honolulu Academy of Arts' third installment of its Graphic Cabinet series, titled Face to Face.
Ambiguous Beauty was a work commissioned by the software entrepreneur Peter Norton as part of his annual series of limited edition gifts designed by contemporary artists. Each object designed for the Peter Norton Christmas Project, as it has come to be called, is manufactured by the artist's studio in an edition of 2,500 to 5,000, and is sent out by Norton as a gift to his friends and associates.
In the case of Ambiguous Beauty, Morimura has designed a traditional Japanese-style wood and paper fan, printed with the image of the artist reclining in the style of a prototypical Hollywood pinup girl. The artist has adorned himself with all the most obvious markings of gender: flowing hair, ruby red lips, and a curvaceously-poised body. However, the illusion begins to fracture before it is even complete: the breasts are flanked by a wrinkled, too-pale strap, the jawline too prominent, and the forearms and stomach decidedly muscular. In this illusion, as with much of Morimura's work, he rests at an uneasy center between two poles. The illusion is neither male nor female, neither Japanese nor American. He deconstructs gender and racial idetities to pull apart the certainty with which we might tend to view such equations.
In addition to Morimura, photographers shown in Face to Face include Robert Frank, Sally Mann, Robert Mapplethorpe, Weegee, William Wegman, Edward Weston and Garry Winogrand. Face to Face is on view at the Academy from October 23, 2008 through February 22, 2009.
A blog of art happenings in and around Honolulu, Hawai'i