It is a great irony of art history that, during the 19th century, an artist/entrepreneur named John Rogers churned out manufactured sculptural multiples in the very same loft that would become Andy Warhol’s Factory, ground zero for appropriation art in the 1960s. Warhol was interested in the image and the power it gained through repetition; he appropriated images from the popular press and reproduced them until they seemed more salient than any original.
Morimura has credited Warhol as an influence. But Morimura is doing something different with his investigations of these masterpieces of art. While for many artists, copying is a way to brush shoulders with artistic heroes and imagine oneself in a pantheon reserved for creative greats (recall Picasso’s proclamation, “Give me a museum and I’ll fill it”), Morimura uses the copy as a resonance chamber for alternate gender identities, impersonating as he does female figures from Western masterpieces. The artist thus undermines what one theorist has referred to as the “desexualized Zen asceticism” of the Asian male. In his Vermeer Study, the coquettish ingénue is replaced by the face of the Japanese, gender-bending artist, an effect both familiar and unsettling, beautiful and off-putting. If copying throughout the ages has often been about updating, in our global world of hybrid national and gender identities Morimura offers a particularly apposite reboot to the cannon.