Camping the Canon: Yasumasa Morimura's Queer Performative Critique of Art History

Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2013

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Art History & Archaeology

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



The late 1980s through the early 1990s were years of critical disruption and challenge within the discipline of art history. Postmodern artists began making work that disrupted dominant ideologies about gender and race as natural and revisionist scholars questioned the standing interpretations and histories of art works within the canon by considering the political and social context of artists and their work. This dissertation places camp (often defined as an ironic penchant for poor taste) within this historical moment and theorizes it as a strategy used by artists at this time to critique the canon of western art and to intervene in revisionist art historical scholarship. I focus on the history and theory of camp, particularly how it has been reclaimed by queer theorists and employed by such photographic artists as Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, and Cindy Sherman. As a case study, I focus on the work of Japanese artist Yasumasa Morimura. In his Art History Series (1985-2004) Morimura inserted himself into canonical works of art, often performing ethnic and gender drag. I argue that through the use of camp, Morimura critiques normative notions of gender, race, and sexuality and further queers the existing critiques of the art-historical canon by challenging revisionist approaches to identity, including feminism, Marxism, postcolonialism, and critical race theory. Building on the work of queer theorists such as Judith Butler, I argue that camp allows Morimura to reveal identity as denaturalized and performative and to question the usefulness of the very process of forming a consensus about what works of art are worthy of study. Camp thus offers the promising possibility of multiple art-historical narratives.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Angela Miller

Committee Members

John Klein, Lutz Koepnick, Rebecca Copeland, Elizabeth Childs, William Wallace


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/K7D21VH3

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