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Artist Yayoi Kusama

Artist Yayoi Kusama

Art. The nets and dots that dominate Kusama’s work are prefigured in the small drawings and paintings she created when still a child, and are included in the exhibition.

In 1962 she made her first sculptural objects based around sex and food. Her soft-sculptures were exhibited that same year in a New York dealer gallery alongside work by Andy Warhol, George Segal, Claes Oldenburg and Richard Smith. As the 1960s progressed she became an integral figure in emerging non-objective art forms, such as happenings and performance art. This was the era of Free Love, and Kusama, in the spirit of the times, adopted the motto ‘Love Forever’, which she printed on buttons, distributed freely at a 1966 exhibition.

Her first room-sized installation, Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show (1963) was exhibited at the Gertrude Stein Gallery, New York, in 1964. Two years later she participated, unofficially, in the Venice Biennale, installing Narcissus Garden (1966) (previous page), comprising 1500 plastic mirror balls on a lawn. By this time mirrors and electrical lights were appearing in her work. Kusama also became known as a writer, fashion designer and film maker, whose documentary about Happenings, Kusama’s Self Obliteration was screened widely in America and Europe in 1968. She was based in New York until 1973, when she returned to Japan, where she has lived since.

In Japan, over the past three decades, she has consolidated her standing as one of the great Japanese artists of recent times. She has made work on an increasingly large scale and has taken advantage of technological advances to realise even more adventurous environments. Her work has been described as outrageous, witty, dazzling and overwhelming; at times it can be psychedelic and hallucinogenic (a continuation of her explorations of the 1960s, no doubt). She continues to engage with the most personal areas of human experience—self-image, sexuality, love, mortality—while also engaging with notions of infinity, time and perception.

In 1993 Kusama officially represented Japan at the Venice Biennale and five years later a major retrospective, ‘Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama 1958-68’ was shown at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and elsewhere in the United States and Japan. Her work is included in public collections around the world, including the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Numerous books devoted to her work have appeared in recent years, including a monograph in the prestigious Phaidon Press ‘Contemporary Artists’ series.

The exhibition Yayoi Kusama: Mirrored Years offers visitors ‘the Kusama Experience’—an immersion in a range of strange, evocative environments. It covers the range of her artistic production—from wall-mounted assemblages and paintings to room-sized mirrored installations, which offer the viewer an experience of endlessness, of infinity.

Yayoi Kusama’s art can be exhilarating, disturbing, disorientating. Mixing Eastern traditions of craft and decoration with the large-scale, shrill visual strategies of the modern Western world, her works are simultaneously gorgeous and mind-boggling. Her sculptures, in particular, can be sensuous and erotic. Her works are at once playful yet infused with anxiety and ambiguity; they are fetishistic yet they are also innocent eruptions of natural form—pumpkins and plant-like shapes abound.

In The Moment of Regeneration (2004), patterned tentacles extend upwards from the gallery floor. Like tongues or fingers, they caress and carouse—equally grotesque and alluring.

The earliest works in the exhibition, her ‘Infinity Net’ paintings are depictions of ‘the tiny networks found in leaves, butterfly wings etc’ in which the entire canvas is ‘occupied by a monochromatic net… a kind of dizzy, empty, hypnotic feeling.’ Like all her works, these are refined and highly finished. Her work is systematic and rigorous, yet it is never impersonal. In her works, Kusama is a tour guide, taking us into a realm of heightened awareness, emotion and sensory perceptions. She writes: ‘I, Kusama, am the modern Alice in Wonderland.’

‘When we obliterate nature and our bodies with polka dots, we become part of the unity of our environment, I become part of the eternal, and we obliterate ourselves in love.’

Kusama’s works evoke physical states and responses. Her mirrored environments draw viewers into the kind of obsessive self-scrutiny the artist imposes upon herself in all her art. We feel a sense of awe at the dizzying capabilities of nature—yet we also feel the need to imaginatively place ourselves in that world. With her ‘infinity nets’ and her ubiquitous dots, she is working at ‘the gates of perception’, she is exploring fundamental ways of living/being in the world.


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