In the end of February Sotheby’s S’2 Gallery in London opened a show of Yayoi Kusama and Louise Bourgeois works. They both have been battling mental illnesses during their lives, which has impacted their art profoundly.

Just after a few weeks after the Women’s March, where millions of women all over the world were marching for women’s rights, Sotheby’s is hosting a show that of two greatest female artists of the twentieth century – Yayoi Kusama and Louise Bourgeois.

The exhibition will bring together sculptures, paintings and works on paper by Bourgeois and Kusama in order to capture the parallels between their very different, but aligned practices.

“Bourgeois and Kusama are now revered as pioneering figures in the history of 20th-century art, and we felt it was the right moment to explore and expand what has been said about them. They shared a profound interest in psychoanalysis, using personal trauma as one of their main sources of inspiration, so by approaching the exhibition from this angle, we hope to provide a fresh perspective on the life and work of these two remarkable artists,» says exhibition co-curator Marina Ruiz Colomer in the interview.

How Yayoi Kusama and Louise Bourgeois Discover Traumatic Experience In Art

The show focuses on the artists’ works that were inspired by their complicated relationships with their mother and their fight with the mental disorder. “One of the really striking things that bridge them is this obsessive repetition in their work,” says Emma Baker who has co-organised the exhibition with Marina Ruiz Colomer.

Louise Bourgeois

Bourgeois works were heavily affected by her traumatic psychological events from her childhood, particularly her father’s infidelity. Her father had a long-standing affair with her nanny, and a mother who turned a blind eye. Her mother image found its place in her art – she associated her mother with a spider. She explained it in one of her interviews: “Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes… spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.” Then, Bourgeois’s parents’ deaths affected her profoundly, and she regularly underwent psychoanalysis for 30 years.

How Yayoi Kusama and Louise Bourgeois Discover Traumatic Experience In Art

Lots of themes that Bourgeois was exploring in her art were stigmatized or not usual for women at that time. Like, mental health problems were misunderstood and hidden from the massive audience. She also referred to the sexually explicit subject matter and was focusing on the three-dimensional form were rare for women artists at the time.

How Yayoi Kusama and Louise Bourgeois Discover Traumatic Experience In Art

Bourgeois was also quite famous for Sunday salons in her Chelsea apartment that she hosted in the 1970s. Young artists would take their work to be critiqued by Bourgeois who could be really straightforward and unpleasant in her comments. Nevertheless, her wish to help and advise young artists was unique and established her influence on artists of the 1970s.

Yayoi Kusama

Kusama was born to a wealthy family in Matsumoto, Japan, and just as Bourgeois was a witness to her father’s  infidel behavior. But unlike Bourgeois, Kusama’s relationship with her mother was heavy, due to her mother’s violent opposition to Kusama’s artistic aspirations. Like Bourgeois, Kusama had some mental health problems which made her sought out psychological help and voluntarily resided in a mental hospital since 1977. Despite this fact she has been creating ever since and still. In 2015 she Artsy named her one of the Top 10 Living Artists of 2015.

How Yayoi Kusama and Louise Bourgeois Discover Traumatic Experience In Art

Kusama is famous for covering her canvases, rooms, and subjects in repetitive polka dots (which she calls “infinity nets”). She gained a lot of attention when she organized a series of happenings in which naked participants were painted with brightly colored polka dots. She then confessed that it was inspired by the hallucinations that have been chasing her since childhood: “By continuously producing the forms of things that terrify me, I am able to suppress my fear… I’m able to revel in my illness in the dazzling light of day.”

How Yayoi Kusama and Louise Bourgeois Discover Traumatic Experience In Art

During their careers, both Bourgeois and Kusama bravely spoke about their mental problems, at times when it was rare to discuss such issues openly. They influenced many young artists and made a great impact on feminist art, surrealism and other not formally defined artistic forms. Bourgeois was creating till her last days – in the last year of her life, at 98, she created a piece in support of gay marriage. Kusama, at her 87 still works and present her works at many shows.

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