Yayoi Kusama is the queen of contemporary art. She is famous for her hallucinogenic, radiant and riotous art, which is deeply personal, obsessive and affecting. Her skill-set spans the mediums of painting, drawing, collage, sculpture, performance, film, printmaking, installation and environmental art as well as literature, fashion, and product design. With the artist’s melodramatic history linked to psychological trauma and hallucinations, you would see that reflected in the whimsical yet somewhat appealing contrast of colors and in one of her favorite motifs – polka dots.

 

Her story

Yayoi Kusama was born in Matsumoto, Japan in 1929. She left home while still young and went to Kyoto, where she enrolled in academic art classes. However, the artist rarely attended classes. For her, the school was too conservative and out of touch with the reality of the modern era. So she painted pictures in the dormitory instead.

In 1958 Kusama moved to New York. She gained attention with her early exhibitions, impressing critics with her dizzying “infinite net” paintings, enormous canvases covered in loops and whorls representing her hallucinations. Gradually getting her art’s recognition, she also started the Kusama Fashion Company, selling dresses and textiles in boutiques including a “complete Kusama corner” in Bloomingdales. Her label created patterned avant-garde clothes and costumes that featured heavily in her performances and happenings.

The Polka-Dot Princess: Yayoi Kusama

In 1975 Kusama returned to Japan where she was hospitalized because of her obsessive-compulsive neurosis. She has resided at the mental hospital ever since. From there, the artist has continued to create art, publish novels and write poetry, while maintaining a studio near the hospital for her large-scale installations.

My art originates from hallucinations only I can see. I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings. All my works in pastels are the products of obsessional neurosis and are therefore inextricably connected to my disease. I create pieces even when I don’t see hallucinations, though.

The Polka-Dot Princess: Yayoi Kusama

Re-emergence

In the past years, Kusama has been granted a critical reassessment with recent retrospectives propelling her back into the limelight. After more than a decade of obscurity, a new wave of Japanese curators and artists began to discover her work, and in 1993 she represented Japan at the Venice Biennale.

In addition, in 2012 Kusama collaborated with French fashion powerhouse Louis Vuitton, decorating their iconic monogrammed handbags with her signature polka dot motif. Over the years, she also founded an erotic newspaper entitled Kusama’s Orgy, published 8 novels, several books of poetry, designed a bus, produced films and staged about 200 Happenings all over the place.

The Polka-Dot Princess: Yayoi Kusama

Consequently, Kusama became a cultural phenomenon, achieving a fame that transcends the art world. So, she has been selected as one of TIME Magazine’s World’s 100 Most Influential People, was named the world’s most popular artist and the most expensive living female artist. Kusama currently holds the record for the most expensive artwork sold at auction by a living female artist at $7.1 million in 2014 for White Net No. 28 (1960).

 

Dotty Inspiration

Known as “the Polka-Dot Princess”, Kusama is famous for her dotty happenings and installations. Her fascination with polka dots stems from a desire to create a seamlessness between her inner life and the physical world.

Since the age of ten, she has been obsessed with polka dots, covering her drawings, canvases, walls, household objects and even her assistants in them. Drawing was a way to express the terror of visual and auditory hallucinations she experienced. The polka dots and nets that would become her world-renowned motifs derived from the blotches that swarmed her vision.

Kusama says that all her inspiration comes from within her mind, with no conscious thought, or influence from other artists, most of whom she dismisses. Her artwork is an expression of the artist’s life, particularly of her mental disease.

Yayoi Kusama

 

Future Exhibitions

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors is going to become a manifesto of Kusama’s six-decade career. The show will travel to five major museums in the United States and Canada. It will start with Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC, from February 23 through May 14, 2017. Then the exhibition will tour over Seattle Art Museum, The Broad (Los Angeles), Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), and Cleveland Museum of Art.

This show will present six Mirror Rooms alongside her other key works. From multimedia installations to peep-show-like chambers, each of these kaleidoscopic environments will give you the chance to step into the world beyond what you think is logical and real – an illusion of infinite space.

The Polka-Dot Princess: Yayoi Kusama

The Polka-Dot Princess: Yayoi Kusama

Her Works

Pumpkin

For Kusama, pumpkins are one of the most precious and enduring motifs in her work. Both endearing and grotesque, the giant gourds have been a source of inspiration for Japanese artist since her childhood in Matsumoto, where her wealthy family sold seedlings and kept plant nurseries.

“Pumpkins have been a great comfort to me since my childhood,” says Kusama. “They speak to me of the joy of living. They are humble and amusing at the same time, and I have and always will celebrate them in my art.”

Now, Yayoi Kusama’s monumental Pumpkin is on view on the Hirshhorn Plaza. It will remain there through the course of the Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors exhibition in Washington, DC.

Yayoi Kusama: Pumpkin

Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli’s Field

This installation opened at Richard Castellane Gallery In 1965. The floor was covered with hundreds of soft red and white fabric-covered protuberances, phallic pillows psychosexual and playful. Teeming with red and white polka dots, the soft tubers tangle to form a three-dimensional floor that’s both comforting and threatening.

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli’s Field

Accumulation Sculptures

Originating in the 1960s, Kusama’s ongoing Accumulations series features everyday objects, items of clothing, furniture – even entire rooms – covered with hand-sewn phallic protrusions.

One of the most famous examples is “Accumulation No. 2”, the couch bristled with phalluses. Yayoi Kusama herself posed nude on it in imitation of a pin-up girl, covered in polka dots. Behind the couch were infinity nets paintings and the floor covered with pasta.

«Polka dots symbolize disease. The macaroni-strewn floor symbolizes fear of sex and food, while the nets symbolize horror toward infinity of the universe. We can not live without the air,» explained the artist.

Yayoi Kusama Accumulation No. 2

Aggregation: One Thousand Boats

The work presented in 1964 comprised a real rowboat covered with stuffed canvas protuberances, surrounded by 999 posters of the boat pasted on the ceiling, floor, and walls of an entire room. After this show, repetition became a hot theme in New York.

Yayoi Kusama Aggregation: One Thousand Boats

Chandelier Of Grief

“Chandelier of Grief” is one of the most theatrical and baroque Kusama’s works. Entering the installation, viewers find themselves within a mirrored space. At its center hangs a chandelier contained inside a column made of a one-way mirror. The lights are twinkling in varying pulses and rhythms.

Yayoi Kusama: Chandelier Of Grief

My Eternal Soul

Works from Kusama’s ongoing My Eternal Soul series overflow with imagery in pulsating combinations of color. The My Eternal Soul paintings join all the philosophies of the artist’s art. “They are an explosion of ideas and represent my preoccupation with infinity and the search for peace and love which has always been at the heart of my work. Through their vibrant colors, I feel my happiness; their strength and clarity flood me with energy,” says Kusama.

Yayoi Kusama: My Eternal Soul

Infinity Net

Kusama’s lifelong preoccupation with infinity becomes obvious in her mirror works as well as her classic “Infinity Net” paintings. Kusama first showed her white “Infinity Nets” in the late-1950s in New York.  They usually look like an endless lattice composed of repeated, looping brush marks across the canvas.

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Net

The Obliteration Room

In this installation, Kusama invites participants to join in. The visitors place rainbow stickers all over a pristine white room until the sterile space is swarming with rainbow spots. Simply speaking, a surreal case of the chicken pox. As a result, putting a sticker on someone’s face makes one a part of the infected space.

Yayoi Kusama: The Obliteration Room

Kusama innovated the concept of artwork as an immersive environment, with the viewer as an active participant. She invented the selfie-happy installation, though probably she didn’t even realize it. The artist’s installations deserve to be photographed: it’s hard to resist the urge to inscribe yourself in the space, with the space, as the space. As a result, there are always dozens of art-lovers queuing up to take a selfie in her displays and draw in numerous Instagram likes.

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