Yayoi Kusama: The Moving Moment When I Went to the Universe
Updated: Oct 26, 2018
Yayoi Kusama is an 89-year-old Japanese contemporary artist who is active – as it looks – everywhere: sculpture, installation, painting, performance, film, fashion, poetry, fiction, and other arts. She is nominated as the top-selling female artist (2017 total auction sales £49m) and is far ahead of any other female artist. Read more on the Top Ten Female Artists here.
Venice Biennale was the key event in her career twice. She obtained international acclaim in 1966 as the first woman to represent Japan there. And thirty years later she returned to fame during the 1993 Venice Biennale. Where was she during these thirty years? I was very interested in reading about her migration.
Just imagine Japanese woman in her twenties walking in local bookshop in a city a bit smaller than Southampton, UK and finding the work of Georgia O’Keeffe. It was not only that she found the work, she also found O’Keeffe’s address in New Mexico and wrote to ask her for advice about how could she make her way in the New York art world. I would like to note several things here.
- Georgia O’Keeffe became Kusama's friend and mentor throughout her lifetime.
- Both artists obtain financial success. While Kusama has the highest auction prices of any living woman artist, the highest price for any woman artist, living or dead, belongs to O’Keeffe.
- The expectation for a young lady of marriage and kids are high in these days, however, it must have been unavoidable in any way in strictly traditional Japan. Thus, to leave her home country was bold and brave.
She moved to the United States in 1957 and returned to Japan in 1973. 1977 she admitted herself to a psychiatric hospital as she was attracted to art therapy courses offered by the hospital. Now she sleeps there and works in her studio across the road, and she is taken care of.
How popular is Yayoi Kusama? I found about Kusama’s exhibition at Victoria Miro Gallery late in August, and apparently, I was, indeed, very lucky not to miss the ticket booking date. After a day from the ticketing start, there was no chance to get into the exhibition on Saturday (Gallery is closed on Sundays and Mondays). I have checked the calendar early in October, the event is fully booked. No way to get in there, though the exhibition is until December… It is said that more than 5 million museum visitors have queued for a brief glimpse of the work of Yayoi Kusama.
Kusama’s twelfth exhibition at Victoria Miro gallery consists of four parts and targets the twin themes of cosmic infinity and personal obsession.
- PUMPKINS. I anticipated to see them as they have been a recurring motif in Kusama’s art since the late 1940s. This iconic object raises interest in few aspects. The repeating pattern of polka dots is the key element in her works and she tend to play with every aspect of it. In her retrospective at Tate Modern in 2012, visitors were given a chance to decorate a blank white room with Kusama’s trademark dots. The timelapse video of Obliteration room shows the process of decorating.
Apart from this, it was early in her childhood that she started to experience disturbing hallucinations when flowers and pumpkins started speaking to her. She drew the pumpkin and won a prize for it, her first, aged 11.
- INFINITY MIRRORED ROOM – MY HEART IS DANCING INTO THE UNIVERSE. This new representation of mirrored room offers the illusion of endless space between the paper lanterns covered with polka-dot patterns. Infinity Mirrored Room is a signature format for the artist since 1965 and had a variation from phallic-shaped soft fabric forms to pumpkins and lanterns. Due to high number of visitors, the time in the infinity mirrored room is restricted. Three people at a time can spend one minute. Definitely it doesn’t feel enough.
- FLOWERS THAT SPEAK ALL ABOUT MY HEART GIVEN TO THE SKY. Vivid colours, polka dots, simplified forms and reflective surface make the flower sculptures so tempting to touch. How is it possible that it looks like created for the playground but is not possible to touch? I guess it is also because of number of the visitors.
- MY ETERNAL SOUL PAINTINGS. Microscopic and macroscopic worlds are depicted in paintings using vivid green, blue, pink, red and other not mixed colours. Mixing comes in dots, patterns, indeterminate forms and faces. ‘All About the Love that Never Ends’, ‘Eternal Beauty’, ‘Adoration for Eternal Space’, ‘The Woman Shouted to the Universe’, ‘When I Went to the World of Stars’, ‘When I Speak About All My Life, ‘Let’s Go To the World of Illusion’, ‘Beyond the Heaven’, and other paintings in square format of 194 x 194 cm bring the longing of freedom from the world and ourselves, liberation, beauty – eternal topics which are valued in all times. The project is ongoing and a part was exhibited in Victoria Miro Gallery in 2016.
There were some works that I missed. Actually, one in particular. Narcissus Garden. First exhibited in 1966 at the 33rd Venice Biennale with no official permission, Narcissus Garden is more than relevant in these days. A lake of 1500 reflective plastic balls were placed on the lawn inviting visitors to confront their vanity when looking at their infinite reflection. Kusama placed a sign “Your Narcissism for Sale” and sold the balls for $2 each. Angry Biennale officials immediately put a stop to her show, objecting to “selling art like hot dogs or ice-cream cones”. Narcissus Garden was installed at MoMA for the last summer.
Many modern art galleries are currently exploring the idea of exhibition as uploadable social media experience. Many worldwide famous artworks are digitalised. You can find interviews with artists, explanations of their work online. But sometimes you are lost. At least I am. And exhibition – internet works better for me than internet - exhibition, unless I search for something in particular. In this event, I knew what to expect. Internet – exhibition – internet did the main job. No surprises, just the quality attained though decades of repetitive and passionate work. I am happy for the chance to see it and touch it (sorry Gallery Assistants, I just couldn't resist the temptation for a milisecond).
Now I am waiting for Alice in Wonderland to be delivered. It must be eternally satisfying.
Review is partly based on what I read here:
'yayoi kusama: the moving moment when I went to the universe'
Victoria Miro Gallery
16 Warf Road, London N1 7RW
3 Oct 2018 - 21 Dec 2018