For over thirty years, Yasumasa Morimura has been practicing tactics of appropriation to enact embodied challenges—one might say glitches—to the canon of Western art history. “Ego Obscura,” which runs until January 13, 2019 at the Japan Society, marks Morimura’s first institutional solo exhibition in New York City.
I FIRST STARTED making self-portraits in 1985, using prosthetics, cosmetics, and sets to assume the roles of figures who signify more than themselves—individuals or works that have become archetypes, including old masters’ paintings, Albrecht Dürer’s Self-Portrait, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Édouard Manet’s Olympia, Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, and Michael Jackson, to name a few.
I was trying to leap across binaries of categorization—masculine and feminine, East and West—as well as ideas such as the feminization of the East, Asia becoming synonymous with woman, the feminine mystique. I began playing around with tropes of what is perceived as sexy and exotic to the West. As David Henry Hwang writes in his 1988 play M. Butterfly: “The West thinks of itself as masculine—big guns, big industry, big money—so the East is feminine‚ weak, delicate, poor—but good at art, and full of inscrutable wisdom.”
These are the ideas I’m continuing to explore in this exhibition. Two feature-length films—Egó-Sympósion, from 2016, and Egó Obscura, from 2018—are the main pieces in this show; the other works, the photographs, are an extension of those films. Especially in Egó-Sympósion, I’m re-scripting and re-embodying history through my cast of characters. “Destroying the world was the same as destroying myself,” says the character of Caravaggio in this work. He continues: “I still find it difficult to ascertain whether I am the artist or the painting . . . Ultimately, this means I am stabbing myself with my brush like a knife. Only a painter who shoulders the burden of the sin of killing a picture can truly comprehend the horrible nature of the act of painting.”
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