University of Illinois at Chicago
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The Art of Artists' Personae: Yayoi Kusama, Yoko Ono, and Mariko Mori

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posted on 2016-06-21, 00:00 authored by Lee SooJin
This dissertation presents artists’ personae as a trajectory of contemporary art, while conceptualizing persona as an unstable yet productive site that can reveal the complicated relations among performance, representation, and perception of artists and their artworks. By combining theories of performance, celebrity, dramaturgy and postcolonial theory, I specifically analyze the image of three Japanese artists who have gained exceptional visibility in the mainstream Western art world since the 1950s: Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929), Yoko Ono (b. 1933), and Mariko Mori (b. 1967). I argue that it has been their media images and their identities as Japanese women that have determined the reception of their artworks while the artists have also strategically played with the Western audience’s cultural, racial, and gendered stereotypes and fantasies about Japan and East Asian women. Chapter 1 discusses the critical and practical importance in contemporary culture of artists’ media images and personae formations by tracing the modern phenomenon of art stars to Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol in postwar New York. Chapter 2 examines Yayoi Kusama’s effort at persona creation in New York in the 1960s and argues that her kimono-clad public performances were not merely crude mongering acts but a survival tactic and satirical parody of Orientalist stereotypes about kimonoed Japanese women. The kimono fetish had become prominent in American culture during the Cold War. Chapter 3 traces the history of the Dragon Lady stereotype and reveals how Yoko Ono since the 1960s has embraced prejudice as a source of her work and how her assertive performances have contributed to the transformation of the originally negative stereotypical role of Dragon Lady into contemporary model of female power. Chapter 4 explores the relationship between Mariko Mori’s Made in Japan series and the rise of Japanese soft power in the 1990s by explicating Japanese mass cultural aesthetics of kawaii (“cute”) and Japanimation in Mori’s art and persona. It also demonstrates how the genealogy of contemporary Japanese art stars represented—in the order of ascendance—by Yasumasa Morimura (b. 1951), Mori, and Takashi Murakami (b. 1962) parallels the shift of the image of Japan from a techno-power dystopia to cute and then to cool dreamland of commodity culture. Chapter 5 emphasizes the roles of celebrity, branding, and mass media in the current art world system, and considers the cases of Nikki S. Lee, Banksy, and Marina Abramović.



Higgins, Hannah B.


Art History

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Committee Member

Chiang, Mark Akcan, Esra Archias, Elise Lavin, Maud K.

Submitted date



  • en

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