Collections> Browse Yayoi Kusama

Collections> Browse Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama
Holdings (0)

Wikipedia About Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist and writer. Throughout her career she has worked in a wide variety of mediums, including painting, collage, sculpture, performance art and environmental installations, most of which exhibit her thematic interest in psychedelic colors, repetition and pattern. A precursor of the pop art, minimalist and feminist art movements, Kusama influenced contemporaries such as Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg. Although largely forgotten after departing the New York art scene in the early 1970s, Kusama is now acknowledged as one of the most important living artists to come out of Japan, and an important voice of the avant-garde. Born in Matsumoto, Nagano into an upper middle class family of seedling merchants, Kusama started creating art at an early age, going on to study Nihonga painting in Kyoto in 1948. Frustrated with this distinctly Japanese style, she became interested in the European and American avant-garde, staging several solo exhibitions of her paintings in Matsumoto and Tokyo during the 1950s. In 1957 she moved to the United States, settling down in New York City where she produced a series of paintings influenced by the abstract expressionist movement. Switching to sculpture and installation as her primary mediums, Kusama became a fixture of the New York avant-garde, having her works exhibited alongside the likes of Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and George Segal during the early 1960s, where she became associated with the pop art movement. Embracing the rise of the hippie counterculture of the late 1960s, Kusama came to public attention after she organised a series of Body Festivals in which naked participants were painted with brightly colored polka dots. In 1973, Kusama moved back to her native Japan, where she found the art scene far more conservative than that in New York. Becoming an art dealer, her business folded after several years, and after experiencing psychiatric problems, in 1977 she voluntarily admitted herself to a hospital, where she has spent the rest of her life. From here, she continued to produce artworks in a variety of mediums, as well as launching a literary career by publishing several novels, a poetry collection and an autobiography. Kusama’s work is based in conceptual art and shows some attributes of feminism, minimalism, surrealism, Art Brut, pop art, and abstract expressionism, and is infused with autobiographical, psychological, and sexual content. Kusama is also a published novelist and poet, and has created notable work in film and fashion design. Major retrospectives of her work have been held at the Museum of Modern Art and Tate Modern, whilst in 2008 Christies New York sold a work by her for $5.1 million, a record for a living female artist. Full Wikipedia Article

essay Yayoi Kusama, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

Yayoi Kusama’s art is vivid, courageous, relentless, and highly idiosyncratic. It is born equally of her compulsion to create and her immense ambition to succeed as an artist—a profession not considered suitable for Japanese women of her generation. In 1957, she immigrated to the United States to pursue her work, and two years later she had her first solo exhibition at the Brata Gallery, New York. She showed a group of vast abstract canvases that she called Infinity Nets, each with an all-over, interlocking pattern of lines and lacunae. “Massive, solid lace” was how Donald Judd described them in a review of the exhibition; Kusama herself has related the Nets to her lifelong hallucinations—overwhelming visions of dots, flowers, and nets that threaten to obliterate her and everything around her.1 To escape annihilation, so to speak, she kept her repetitive visions at arm’s length by confining them within her artworks.

Kusama continued to paint throughout the 1960s, and also made monochromatic collages of paper dots and stickers that recall the repetitive patterning of the Infinity Nets. Around 1961, she also began making obsessively decorated sculpture she sometimes called Compulsion Furniture. She and Judd, who had become a friend, scavenged the streets of Manhattan for cast-off objects, which she covered with dried noodles or protruding phallic shapes sewn of canvas and stuffed with cotton. Her first sculptural work, Accumulation No. 1 (1961), is an old armchair frame that bristles with a multitude of white-painted phalluses. Subsequent objects—made from a couch, an ironing board, a baby carriage, high-heeled shoes, a kitchen stool—evoke a domestic environment nightmarishly (and hilariously) overrun by thousands of proliferating penises. Among this early group is the Walker Art Center’s Oven-Pan (1963), a small piece that continues the theme of obsessive, dangerous consumption. A baking pan overflows with copper-colored phalluses, soft as yams; they have apparently mushroomed unexpectedly, for in the center of the pan sits an abandoned spoon holding a small serving of the dish. Presumably interrupted in mid-serve, the cook has fled. Kusama later said that works such as this embodied her ambivalence toward the erotic: “The sexual obsession and the fear of sex sit side by side in me.”2

While adamantly her own, Kusama’s spare paintings and cartoonish sculptures developed alongside Pop Art and have been perceived as cousins of Claes Oldenburg’s soft sculptures and Andy Warhol’s gridded paintings. Her sculptural installations and riotous public performances—which she called Naked Happenings, Anatomic Explosions, and Orgies—also flowed with the zeitgeist of the 1960s, featuring psychedelic light shows, group sex, and quasi-political protests. She appeared constantly in the tabloid media, but her notoriety eventually soured her art-world audience and she became unable to support herself through sales of her work. Under severe emotional and financial strain, she returned to Japan in 1972; a few years later, she voluntarily became a resident of a private psychiatric clinic in Tokyo. She has lived there since, maintaining a studio and continuing to make her work. Her career has been the subject of renewed interest since the late 1980s, when a retrospective of her work was organized in New York,3 and in 1993 she was the sole artist to represent Japan in the Venice Biennale.

  1. Donald Judd, “Reviews and Previews: New Names This Month—Yayoi Kusama,” Artnews 58, no. 6 (October 1959): 17. Kusama has often spoken of her mental illness and its relationship to her work. See Lynn Zelevansky’s essay in Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958–1968, exh. cat. (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1998), 10–41.

  2. Quoted by Andrew Solomon in “Dot Dot Dot,” Artforum 36, no. 6 (February 1997): 72.

  3. The exhibition Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective was curated by Alexandra Munroe and opened at the Center for International Contemporary Arts, New York, in 1989.

Rothfuss, Joan. “Yayoi Kusama.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center