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Tate Modern celebrates the art of Japanese Yayoi Kusama.
David Franchi – Friday, 9th March 2012
“Yayoi Kusama” is a dazzling Tate Modern exhibition celebrating one of the most significant Japanese artists.
Yayoi Kusama, in fact, is an important artist who pioneered and innovated art in the last century. The octogenarian Kusama is one of Japan’s best-known living artists. Since the 1940s she has developed an extensive body of work through the usage of variegated kind of mediums such as painting, collage, sculpture, performance art and environmental installations, most of which show her thematic interest in psychedelic colours, repetition and pattern.
The Tate Modern exhibition is organised in chronological order starting from her earliest explorations of painting in provincial Japan to new unseen works. This homonymous exhibition discloses her enhancing progress, confirming Yayoi Kusama as one of the most appealing artist of today.
“Yayoi Kusama” reveals a farsighted vision about the real world. In the Tate Modern exhibition her major themes are collated including her obsession for pointed figures, the polka dots that have become her signature. The exhibition includes a group of Kusama’s first “Infinity Net” paintings from her early years in New York, canvases covered in endlessly-repeated, scalloped brushstrokes of a single colour.
Yayoi Kusama’s art has an intensity that reflects her unique vision of the world, through an overwhelming gathering of small details or the dense patterns of nets. She is celebrated for her large-scale installations of astounding power that immerse the viewer. Highlights, in fact, are major sculptural installations including “The Clouds” (1984), comprising one hundred unique black and white sprayed sewed stuffed cushions, and “Heaven and Earth” (1991), which features snake-like forms emerging from forty boxes. The exhibition ends with a series of works from the last decade including “I’m Here, but Nothing” (2000) a darkened domestic space covered with fluorescent polka dots, and a new installation conceived especially for the show, “Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life” (2011), her largest mirrored room to date. The whole exhibition aims to a diverse usage of sensorial faculties, especially sight, leading to a different processing of them by means of the losing.
Yayoi Kusama was born in Matsumoto, Nagano, Japan in 1929. At the beginning of her
career she studied diverse form of art, integrating a large range of Eastern and Western influences, training in traditional Japanese painting while also exploring the European and American avant-garde. Yayoi Kusama forged her own direction in sculpture and installation, adopting techniques of montage and soft sculpture which influenced artists such as Andy Warhol and Claus Oldenburg.
Yayoi Kusama was the fourth child of a wealthy and conservative family of entrepreneurs. She has experienced hallucinations and severe obsessive thoughts since childhood, often of a suicidal nature. As a small child she suffered severe physical abuse by her mother.
In 1948, Yayoi Kusama left home to enter senior class at Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts, where she studied Nihonga painting, and get graduated the following year. Because of her hate of the rigidity of the master-disciple system, she said “When I think of my life in Kyoto, I feel like vomiting.”
In the late 1950s, Yayoi Kusama moved to the United States. One of her characteristic is the obsession for sex and the phallic form, the latter reminding draws and comics of the 1970s – especially the ones of the French renowned Moebius.
In the 1960s Yayoi Kusama started to create new artworks with a strong sexual background. From 1967 she made numerous challenging and risqué performances – particularly a series of Body Festival – painting polka dots on participants naked bodies or catching them in her works creating and editing videos. The Tate Modern exhibition showcases “Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show” (1963), her first room installation, and a significant selection of her classic “Sex Obsession” and “Food Obsession” Accumulation Sculptures dating from 1962-68. The exhibition includes iconic film “Kusama’s Self-Obliteration” (1968), capturing this period of performative experimentation, and an extensive selection of archive material.
Also in the 1960s Yayoi Kusama moved from painting, sculpture and collage to installations, films, performances and ‘happenings’ as well as political actions, counter-cultural events, fashion design and publishing.
In 1973, Yayoi Kusama moved back to her native Japan. The Tate Modern exhibition shows vibrant and evocative collages she created on her return. She became an art dealer but also forged a parallel career as a poet and novelist. When she left New York she was practically forgotten as an artist until the late 1980s and 1990s, when a number of retrospectives revived international interest.
After experiencing psychiatric problems, in 1977 Yayoi Kusama voluntarily admitted herself to Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill (Shinjuku, Tokyo). Eventually, she took up permanent residence and, by choice; she has spent the rest of her life in the hospital. Nowadays, she is still producing work in her studio situated at a short distance from the hospital.
Yayoi Kusama is often quoted as saying: “If it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago.” In 1994 she became very popular while collaborating with Peter Gabriel for the video “Love Town” where all her obsessions – polka dots, food and sex – are gathered.
Kusama’s work is based in conceptual art and pays tribute to feminism, minimalism, surrealism, Art Brut, pop art, and abstract expressionism, and it is imbibed with autobiographical, psychological, and sexual content. In 2008 Christies New York sold a work by her for $5.1 million, a record for a living female artist.
Sponsored by Louis Vuitton, “Yayoi Kusama” is curated by Frances Morris, Head of Collection, International Art, Tate with Rachel Taylor, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The exhibition has been organised by Tate Modern in collaboration with the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; Centre Pompidou, Paris and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
From 9th February until 5th June 2012.
At the Tate Modern, Bankside, London.