Yayoi Kusama is one of the most important contemporary artists in the world. Her work has bridged two significant 20th century art movements – pop art and minimalism – employing a myriad of mediums that consist of painting, environmental and immersion installations, performances and presentations, film and literary and fashion. Seen through “microscopic and macroscopic universes,” Kusama’s work is easily recognizable for its designs incorporating nets and polka dots.
At 84, the Japanese artist in the vermilion bob wig seems as bold and colorful as her work. Her earlier years in New York from 1957 to late 1972 was a phase that some critics feel was Kusama’s finest work. When other New York artists were focused on “action painting,” Yayoi Kusama was fixated on dots. She was obsessed with circle designs, furniture with small, tuber-sized soft-sculpture phalluses emerging out from the foamed fabric that she called, “Accumulations,” and “Infinity Net” paintings. She also took an interest in the 60s ideals – anti-war performances, sexual revolution and the hippie ethos – and aligned her work accordingly.
In 1973, she returned to Japan in a “state of psychological crisis,” but like other exceedingly creative artists, her “demons” became the source of her art. Since childhood, Yayoi Kusama experienced deliriums with flowers that spoke to her, patterns on fabric that blossomed with life, proliferated and terrorized her. These fears consumed her in her teenage years, so she turned to art as for salvation.
One visual component stayed static in her collections, the polka dot. It is the connection to every medium she has worked in, from paintings and performance to film and fashion. There are photographs of Kusama painting polka dots, dressed in dots, circulating with dot-covered nudes and even a horse in performances. It is as if she is one with her art. In 1977, Yayoi Kusama entered a Tokyo psychiatric hospital, and still lives there today, with a huge studio nearby so she can continue her work.
Yayoi Kusama’s pieces are vibrant and imaginative, almost out of the pages of Alice and Wonderland. Polka dots are Kusama’s “lifelong inspiration, obsession and passion.”
Her world is covered in spots, but it has expanded from galleries and museums around the world to the French luxury label, Louis Vuitton, thanks to creative director, Marc Jacobs – clothing, shoes, handbags and sunglasses. In 2012, donned in her trademark vermilion wig, a polka dot dress and a polka dot Louis Vuitton scarf, she told the Associated Press “polka dots are fabulous.”
The Hangaram Art Museum in Seoul presents A Dream I Dreamed retrospective running from May 4 through June 15, 2014. This solo exhibition explores more than 100 works by Yayoi Kusama from the last six decades. The exhibit will travel to Taipei and New Delhi after its short run in Seoul.
The avant-garde artist’s works include pumpkin and twisting tulip sculptures, and the Obliteration Room that encourages interaction with visitors by allowing them to post bright polka dot stickers within a stark white room subsequently generating an up-to-the-minute installation piece. And, just about every work is marked in, you guessed it, polka dots.
Permanent exhibitions of Yayoi Kusama’s work is held in the Whitney Museum of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Tate Gallery in London to name a few.
By: Dawn Levesque