Yasumasa Morimura and Marcel Duchamp: Appropriations Essay

The post modern era is one in which things were twisted, changed and critiqued. Some people questioned the ways and ‘rules’ of society, rebelling against conformity and the usual ideas of what was ‘right’ or ‘allowed’. Artists were largely in this group. Marcel Duchamp and Yasumasa Morimura are examples of artists who appropriated other people, things and paintings in their work, to change their meanings, and either rebel against the norms of society, make a statement about issues affecting them and their culture, or to add humour to a once serious piece.

Marcel Duchamp, born in France in 1887, to an artistic family, was an expressive artist who was able to think outside the square, and through his works, recreated the idea of what art actually was. Duchamp became a cult pop art figure, and influenced the surrealism and dada movements. He studied at academy Julian, and was always very creative. This led to his expanding his ideas, leading to him questioning the very idea of art. He pushed the boundaries of society, changed how people look and judged art, and raised a few eyebrows along the way.

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He began to drift away from painting (must have been too generic for him) and started experimenting with ready-mades, thus he created one of his first famously odd pieces, fountain. Duchamp took a regular urinal, and flipped it over, signed it ‘R. Mutt’, apparently to protect his identity, and thus completely changed the urinals context and meaning. He divorced it from its original bathroom scene, where it was a urinal, and made it a fountain. The main purpose of fountain is to make a statement to society, and that it does.

It is evidence that art can be anything, it is not up to anyone but the artist to choose what art is. Duchamp was making a statement about the reasoning behind the unsaid rules of art, and it was these he set out to challenge, as showed in his words: “An artist does not need to create a piece himself to have be considered art. Its specific feature lies not in the work itself, but in the idea behind it. Emphasis is placed upon the artist not as a craftsman, but as gifted perceiver whose choice of an object is seen as a creative act.

The readymade thus becomes the focus of mediation on the relation between external things and our perception of them”. Duchamp appropriated the urinal to make this statement. It was something he believed in. for example, he was a part of an art society in which held an exhibition and whatever artists sent in would be hung, which he left after fountain was rejected. He wanted to rebel against the constrictions of the art world, showing the way he perceived art and objects, and showing that anything can be art, if the idea is right, as he quoted: “I am interested in ideas, not merely in visual products”.

Fountain was created in the early 1900’s, and the idea of modern, unusual art was fairly new, therefore, the public had a negative reaction to fountain. It was rejected from the art society Duchamp was a part of, and was dubbed controversial and, being a bathroom fixture, was considered to be far too inappropriate to display in a gallery. Fountain was also seen as being a bisexual piece, with slight male and female qualities, and by some as a homosexual piece. The original Fountain, like many of Duchamp’s ready-mades were destroyed, showing how society just wasn’t prepared to accept such definitions of art.

Yasumasa Morimura, born in Osaka, Japan, in 1951 was a Japanese artist who was trained at Kyoto City University of the arts. He was taught in, and enjoyed a western style of art, as he was living in an era in which Japanese culture was greatly influenced by and looked up to American society and their dazzling icons and starlets. Morimura was also a homosexual. He was very homosexual. This history led onto him investigating how Japan interacts with the outer world, by piecing together new identities in his artworks and photographs, combining his own culture with that of the global community.

His gayness was also another factor which sculpted the issues in which come up in his pieces. Morimura appropriates the famous images from Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Manet and Frida Kahlo, and also the American Hollywood stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Vivian Leigh and Elizabeth Taylor, with his face inserted over theirs. In the image Marilyn Monroe, Morimura features in a digitalized photograph 3 times, where he appears in different poses of the pop icon Marilyn, from her famous movie the seven year itch.

Each Morimura, as Marilyn Monroe, stands upon a pedestal, which accentuates her influential power, even with all her girly charm, which Morimura clearly defines. Morimura isn’t just playing dress ups. He is making a statement about the issues he feels he faces personally including sexuality, gender and race, and those affecting Japanese society such as race and the western impact upon Japanese culture. Morimura considers himself as being “a performer, in costume, in makeup, representing a character that is both well known, yet making a current social statement. Morimura uses his characters to make the statement to society that American culture has invaded Japan, and in Marilyn Monroe, he morphs himself into this ugly Marilyn man, to shock and confuse the audience, and demonstrate the wrong values and consumerism of the American world. Morimura also makes a statement about his sexuality, race and gender. When asked the question in an interview “you play women. Do you wish you were one? Are you gay? … Or just trying to confuse your audience? ” he answers “Commotion provides beauty, like waves crashing.

Weird and hard to pin down beauty (is what I’m after)”. Morimura is saying that he portrays women for said reason, but interviews aside, he is creating a juxtaposition with a Japanese mans face on an female American icons body to show the differences, and similarities between sexes and races. As quoted, he is out to “mix cultures, not divide”, and to show the unusual beauty in not only himself, but his culture. Morimura chose to appropriate the image of Marilyn to make this statement about his race, gender, culture, and the American lifestyle which invaded it.

He wanted to show how Japan interacts with the western world, by creating a new figure that morphs the two. He says “I don’t want something the same, I want the original essence of the subject, and for it to exist in a new world that calls upon what our world is facing”. While international art was freely accepted at the time, the public didn’t really know how to react to Morimuras images. It was thoughts that “Americans might have more reverence/hatred/confusion regarding their favourite pop star done in drag by a foreigner”*. For Americans, the idea of a foreigner dressing as a favourite starlet was somewhat shocking.

Personally, I think that the image is very successful. The juxtaposition of an Asian man on the body of Marilyn is interesting, and while humorous, it also provides the underlying message and substance that any successful piece needs. Both Duchamp and Morimura have been successful in expressing their personality and worldly concerns through these appropriated pieces. Both have created something which relates to what they or their world is facing, and In the tradition of postmodernism, they have challenged and questioned usual rules and practices, and pushed the limitations of art sky high.

Lin Onus, born in Victoria in 1948, was an artist born to an Aboriginal father, who was a political activist, and Scottish mother. As Onus grew up with surroundings of classical art and music, while also helping his father making aboriginal souvenirs and artefacts, he developed a love for art early on, along with the influence of European and aboriginal culture in him. Onus trained as a mechanic as a young adult, he developed skills in spray painting and fibreglass moulding, which he used in later years. He also visited Arnhem Land for 14 years, which had an emotional and spiritual impact on both his art and life.

He also met the aboriginal elder and artist Jack Wunuwun, who later became his mentor. Onus’s unique history has had a great impact on, and the messages he conveys through his art. He is able to comment on issues which affect both white and native Australians alike. In 1992 onus appropriated the well known painting The great wave by Katsushika Hokusai. He completely changed the context, meaning and mood by adding a dingo, which represents himself, riding a stingray, which represents fellow artist Michael Eather, both drawn in an aboriginal style, and riding the curling great wave in Hokusai’s original.

Onus also injected the once serious and epic original with some classic Australian humour, and scenery, with the radiant red sky. In his appropriation, Onus is making a statement about his crossed nationality, through the use of aboriginal and European techniques, which combine to form a unique idea, and also by featuring Australian animals, he comments his own heritage. He is also commenting on the idea of Australians being able to ride the wave of, and participate in the rush of the international world, with the dingo, being used to represent the underdog, for survival and adaption. ”

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