Come and explore the eccentric, wonderful world of the prolific Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.
Swallow antidepressants and it will be gone
Tear down the gate of hallucinations
Amidst the agony of flowers, the present never ends
At the stairs to heaven, my heart expires in their tenderness
Calling from the sky, doubtless, transparent in its shade of blue
Embraced with the shadow of illusion
Sounds of tears, shed upon eating the colour of cotton rose
I become a stone
Not in time eternal
But in the present that transpires
– Song of a Manhattan Suicide Addict by Yayoi Kusama
Eighty-seven years ago – 1929 – in the Japanese city of Matsumoto, Yayoi Kusama was born, the fourth child of a conservative upper-middle-class family. Her childhood was anything but what she wished for. She grew up with little encouragement from her parents, who did not approve of her dream of becoming an artist. By at the age of 10 she was already determined to spend her time painting, but her mother repeatedly took away her ink and paper. In 1957, Kusama found herself forced to choose between her family and her dream. With support from her psychiatrist she chose her dream and moved to New York City to become an artist. With only a small loan from a relative and a few artworks, she established her own artistic practice in the urban heart of America.
In New York Kusama was met by a white male-dominated environment that characterised the art scene of the 1960s, and came up against both sexism and racism early in her career. Influenced by other avant-garde artists she gradually developed from being a painter to being what can be described as an environment artist. Her practice now comprised a variety of media, including drawing, sculpture, film, performance and installation. Her work showed attributes of feminism, minimalism, surrealism, pop art and conceptualism, but most important was maybe the abstract expressionism, rooted in her autobiographical and psychological experiences. By exposing her persona, marked as it is with obsessiveness, she has created environments and invited viewers to participate in her absurd but fascinating, and sometimes disturbing, universe.
When entering one of Kusama’s large-scale works, the viewer is confronted with repetition and patterns reflected in mirrors, covering complete rooms. She tempts us with surroundings that force the mind to explore the boundaries of space and challenge us to separate what is real from illusion – leaving us, eventually, with deeply existential questions.
Kusama’s artistic expression has influenced and inspired many art forms. She is a published writer and poet, and has created notable work in film and fashion design. One could almost say that Kusama is her art. How she dresses, writes, sings, designs and creates always comes from her fascinating perception of the world we live in.
In 1973, Kusama returned from New York to Japan in unstable health. Soon after her return, she checked herself into the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill in Tokyo. Here she took up permanent residence, and the hospital became the place she calls home.
With her studio located nearby, she is still a very productive artist, who spends her days deeply focused and surrounded by several assistants. Kusama has worked her way though all the areas that culture has to offer and enriched it with different expressions. However, there is one element that has followed her for a longer time than any other: what she calls the polka dots. These have become her signature, and are based on hallucinations that started appearing to her soon after her arrival in the United States in 1957. Back then, the undiscovered talent was walking the streets of New York. Surrounded by concrete, she headed towards the Empire State Building. Soon she found herself on the top floor, looking down on the city, and what did she see? Dots – polka dots. At that moment the young artist made a promise to herself: one day, I will conquer the city of New York with my art and the mountains of creativity that move inside of me.
Today, Kusama is one of Japan’s most internationally recognised contemporary artists. One of her more comprehensive solo shows is currently on tour, and is on display in Stockholm this summer. So there is only one thing left to say: enjoy Kusama!
“Dots are symbols of the world, the cosmos. The earth is a dot, the moon, the sun, the stars are all made up of dots. You and me, we are dots” – Yayoi Kusama
Yayoi Kusama: In Infinity, June 11-September 11; Moderna Museet, Stockholm
Words by Iselin Page
Special thanks to Moderna Museet, Stockholm
Kusama with Dots Obsession, Installation View from Yayoi Kusama: Eternity of Eternal Eternity, 2012, Kusama with one Infinity painting New-York,1961, Kusama Suit, 1962, Kusama with Pumpkin, Installation view from Aichi Triennale, 2010, Kusama Louis-Vuitton shop window display with Tentacles, 2012-2015, Kusama Installation view Kusama Infinity Mirror Room, 1965, Kusama Flower, 1952, Kusama Life of a human, 2014, Kusama-Yayoi_Dots-Obsession, 2012
© Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy Moderna Museet, Stockholm