Yayoi Kusama is one of the most acclaimed artists working today. Since the 1950s, she has created art that is as personal as it is universal. Like few other artists she moves freely between painting, sculpture and installations, between art and design, and between East and West. In summer 2016, Moderna Museet and ArkDes are featuring Yayoi Kusama’s oeuvre in the first major presentation in Sweden.
In 1957 Yayoi Kusama left Japan for New York. Here, at the heart of the vibrant 1960s art scene, she created many of her seminal works, characterised by the impulse to allow one shape or pattern take over and repeat itself infinitely. In the series Infinity Nets, Kusama methodically filled large canvases with semicircles in white, impasto oil paint, like the mesh of an infinite net. It is a painterly practice where the process itself is tangible, bordering on performance, and the works have an energy that comes from the charged concentrated effort Kusama has put into each painting. In her series of Accumulation Sculptures, everyday objects are covered with stuffed, phallic textile protuberances, a poignant theme that challenged the caucus of male critics. The late 1960s was an intensely creative period for Kusama, and her artistic activities expanded to breaking point. She organised collective art happenings, orgies, political performances and staged Anti-war protests. The participants wore clothes designed by Kusama, but just as often the clothes came off, in protest against the establishment. In Body Paint Festivals Kusama painted polka dots on nude bodies and appointed herself the “High Priestess of Polka Dots”. She founded the magazine Kusama’s Orgy and designed avant-garde fashion for her own label, The Nude Fashion Company. As a non-Western woman in a then excluding, male art world, Yayoi Kusama was an outsider, a position she emphasised and occasionally played with.
“Early in her career, Kusama began to incorporate not only her inner experiences but also herself in her works, removing the distinction between art and artist, unlike other artists of her generation who insistently maintained this distance. Kusama was a master of marketing her persona in images, press releases and manifestoes, but what began as a way of promoting her art soon turned into an integral part of her artistic practice” says the curator, Jo Widoff.
In the early 1970s, Kusama left New York. Some years later she resumed her artistic practice in Tokyo, making monumental paintings and sculptures. In the works from the mid-1980s, Kusama revisited the polka dots and nets that had been a leitmotif throughout her artistic career, but they now appeared in vivid colours, with references to nature and even more stylized patterns. The yellow pumpkin became a recurring motif in Kusama’s works during this period.
Kusama’s remarkable imagery springs from the recurrent hallucinations she has experienced since childhood, where, like an infinite starry sky, the world appeared as covered by dots and repetitive patterns. Art, for Kusama, became a method of giving form to these inner landscapes. In an effort to put words to her experiences, Kusama talks about the concept of self-obliteration – a notion of becoming one with the surroundings, of dissolving the boundaries of the Self, of disappearing through her works into an all-embracing nothingness. This notion inspired her to develop her ideas into spatial installations. One of these is Mirror Room (Pumpkin) (1991), which was shown at the Venice Biennale in 1993.
“To share her experiences, Kusama creates works of art that invite visitors to lose themselves in the infinite nets, mirror rooms and thousands of polka dots with which she covers the world. It is as if her installations suspend time and space – an infinity that embraces rather than overwhelms us.” says Jo Widoff.
Yayoi Kusama – In Infinity is the first comprehensive exhibition highlighting Kusama’s interest in fashion and design. In addition to her own fashion label, The Nude Fashion Company, the exhibition includes works from her partnerships with Louis Vuitton (2012) and the design collective graf (2000). Yayoi Kusama’s oeuvre is presented by a rich selection of paintings, drawings and sculptures, along with large-scale spatial installations and material from her happenings and performances in New York in the 1960s. Yayoi Kusama – In Infinity includes the new installation Infinity Mirrored Room – Hymn of Life (2015) and Narcissus Garden (1966), which is one of her most renowned works. Narcissus Garden was on Kusama’s initiative first presented at the Venice Biennale in 1966 and celebrates its fiftieth anniversary 2016.