Saturday, March 24, 2018

Yayoi Kusama

She received the order of culture in 2016

A polka-dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life, and also the form of the moon, which is calm. Round, soft, colorful, senseless and unknowing. Polka-dots become movement ... Polka dots are a way to infinity.
—Yayoi Kusuma, in Manhattan Suicide 

On March 22, 2018, Yayoi Kusama turned 85. She began her career in the late 1940’s in Kyoto but in 1957 moved to the United States, inspired by the abstract expressionists. She exhibited her works next to those of Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg.

Kusama's happening at the Statue of Liberty, Liberty Island, New York, 1968 / Image courtesy: Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / © Yayoi Kusama, Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc.
Born into an affluent family, Kusama started creating art at an early age. An abusive mother and a playboy father left her with a lifelong contempt for male sexual behavior. At the age of 13, she was sent to work in a Japanese military factory, spending her teenage years in what she termed"closed darkness" only lightened by the hallucinations of dots and flowers which she began to experience at the age of 10 or so.

In the 1950's she had an early success in Japan, covering every item that she could with what would become her signature polka dots, based on her childhood hallucinations. But she began to feel that Japanese society was too servile and too scornful of women so she left for first France and then, NY City in 1957.

In New York, she connected with the avant guarde, including Eva Hesse, learned how to manipulate her public image through photos of her with her signature colored wigs and heavy make up, as well as colorful, very stylish fashions. However, she did not profit financially and was hospitalized several times from over work. Nevertheless, she was active in arranging numerous public happenings along with performance art and in 1966, participated in the Venice Biennale.

One of the first Infinity Rooms

 In 1973 she returned to Japan where she wrote novels, poetry and short stories. Her art dealer business folded and she again checked herself into a hospital where she eventually took up permanent residence. From this base, she continued to work, producing huge paintings in a "ramped up" style. She was almost forgotten but her career revived in the 1990's with her work in the Japanese pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1993, a dazzling mirror lined room filed with small sculptures of pumpkins. From this work, she began to use the pumpkin as a form of an alter ego. From that time to this, the number of her successful exhibitions is too long to list.

Her "Infinity Mirrors' room at the Hershorn Museum was the most popular exhibit in the museum's history, so popular that one person broke one of the pumpkins, taking her own selfie. Somebody should have pointed out to the visitor that she was no Kusama.

From an almost unknown, she has become the matriarch of truly avant guarde art. Her polka dots and infinity rooms have tapped into the zeitgeist of our culture. While most of those who view her exuberant installations have no idea of the profound philosophical ideas behind them - at least consciously- it is hoped that they are responding in at least a subconscious way. Kusama has said that her spots saved her life; perhaps they can also save some aspect of our threatened culture. Her Infinity Rooms allow people to experience space outside of themselves and possibly both quiet and joy (assuming that they take the ear plugs out long enough to actually interact with the work.) During the 60's, she sent a letter to Richard Nixon....."Our earth is like one little polka dot, among millions of other celestial bodies, one orb full of hatred and strife amid the peaceful, silent spheres. Let's you and I change all that and make this world a new Garden of Eden.... You can't eradicate violence by using more violence." 

Kusama fully embraced Warhol's idea of the artist as celebrity, claiming, "publicity is critical to my work because it offers the best way of communicating with a large number of people... avant-garde artists should use mass communication as traditional painters use paints and brushes."

1 comment:

Carla Ives said...

I had never heard of Kusama and that's a real shame. I love the work depicted here! I am not a huge fan of modern or avant garde art, but she really touched me in her pieces and rooms. I love, love, love polka dots. Maybe that's it, but I don't think it's all of it. The blue infinity room is magnificent! I will definitely look up more of her work. A very unique woman that should be more well-known. She maybe is in the art world, but I think she should be better known to the general public.