Yasumasa Morimura’s practice is about blurring boundaries. His intricate tableaus hover in the interstitial space between painting and photography and are admired for their inquiry into the construction of gender and identity. Two exhibitions, In the Room of Art History at Luhring Augustine Bushwick and Ego Obscura at the Japan Society, make clear the artist’s penchant for blending and transcending media to achieve technically masterful and conceptually rigorous results. Widely-known for his reenactments of art historical sources, it is refreshing to see political works and two recent video works that extend beyond art historical mimicry.
In the Room of Art History includes three large self-portraits and a wall of black and white images from Morimura’s pivotal One Hundred M’s self-portraits (1993 – 2000). The pairing of the earlier series with his later, more elaborate stagings of art historical figures, sets up a visual dialogue that spans the artist’s career. Ego Obscura, the artist's first solo institutional exhibition in New York City, continues this overarching survey and, while oddly claustrophobic due to small galleries and low ceilings, is a comprehensive portrayal of Morimura’s practice and creative output over the last several decades.
In the 1980s, Morimura began to insert himself into extant art historic tableaus with early homages to self-portraits by Vincent Van Gogh. By replacing the original subject with his own body, the artist questioned the place of the artist in their own works as well as the history of portraiture and its transition from painting to photography. Subjects also included Caravaggio, Vermeer, Magritte, Vigée Le Brun, Frida Kahlo, among others. By focusing mainly on Western artists, Morimura created a juxtaposition between the predominately white male canon (with some obvious exceptions) and his Japanese identity. Furthermore, by creating faux-paintings out of meticulously crafted sets, extravagant makeup modeled on painterly brushwork, and exacting reproductions of painted spaces which are then photographed, Morimura blurs the boundaries between the two disciplines while questioning their indebtedness to each other.
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