From the Collection: Yasumasa Morimura
This regular series offers a glimpse into the Weisman's permanent collection. Each post will feature an object currently on view in the galleries.
It’s the holiday season and gifts and packages come flying at your door. In your excitement you scoop them up and bring them into the house. But one package in particular catches your eye—one marked Peter Norton Family Christmas Project. Immediately you realize that you are one of 3,000 or so lucky art enthusiasts who is about to receive a gift of art commissioned by Peter Norton, the American software publisher turned philanthropist and art connoisseur.
The tradition started in the early 1990s and has continued every holiday season since. Each year, Norton commissions an artist (sometimes two or three) to make small, unique art works that can be reproduced by the artists’ workshops. For Norton, the gifts are a way to make contemporary art accessible. His gifts allow friends, coworkers, and colleagues to learn from and enjoy an art object in an intimate setting, as opposed to a museum or gallery.
In 1995, Norton chose a particularly compelling artist to design his gift: Yasumasa Morimura. Morimura has made a career out of inserting himself into famous portraits and paintings. For Norton’s Christmas project, Morimura created Ambiguous Beauty. The gift, a traditional Japanese fan tucked safely into a wooden box, came with a typical holiday greeting card from the Norton family, but the standard message is not a fair indicator of the eyebrow-raising object inside. Weisman director Lyndel King received the gift and later donated the piece to the museum.
Unfurling the fan reveals an iconic image of Marilyn Monroe lying nude on the floor in a sensuous position. But this Marilyn Monroe is not the iconic Marilyn Monroe we're used to seeing. Instead it is Morimura, dressed (or undressed) to resemble the American sex symbol of the 1950s. The artist explores themes of East/West and male/female as he adopts and resituates the classic image. He is an Eastern artist who inserts himself into a Western dialogue while subverting traditional gender roles. This unusual twist makes for a unique gift indeed!
You better be good this holiday season, because with a gift as coveted as Peter Norton’s, he will definitely be checking that list twice.