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Yayoi Kusama (b.1929)


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Thaw in Early Spring, 1978 ink and enamel paint on...
Thaw in Early Spring, 1978
ink and enamel paint on paperboard
26 x 20 inches / 66 x 50.8 cm
signed
Dedicated to Arthur Rimbaud, 1988 mixed media box...
Dedicated to Arthur Rimbaud, 1988
mixed media box construction with wood, fabric, mesh, silver spray paint and synthetic netting
13 x 9 5/8 x 5 3/4 inches / 33 x 24.4 x 14.6 cm
signed

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Artist Information

“[You] might say that I came under the spell of repetition and aggregation. My nets grew beyond myself and beyond the canvases I was covering with them. They began to cover the walls, the ceiling, and finally the whole universe. I was always standing at the centre of the obsession, over the passionate accretion and repetition inside of me.”[i]

Known for her large-scale installations comprising an array of endlessly repeating dots, nets, and various natural forms, Yayoi Kusama (b.1929) has established a place for herself both within and beyond the dominant movements of the 20th and 21st centuries. The artist was born in Matsumoto City, Japan, into a conservative, bourgeois family. In early adolescence she began to experience hallucinatory illusions of patterned veils that eclipsed her entire field of vision—the first manifestation of the mental illness that would afflict her for the rest of her life. Ultimately Kusama decided to translate these hallucinations into reality, propelled by the compulsive and manic energies that often accompanied them, harnessing her art as both a creative force and means to coping with her neurodivergent psyche. After training in the Nihonga style of painting, which combines traditional Japanese painting techniques with a naturalism rooted in European naturalism, Kusama departed for the United States in late 1957.

Upon her arrival to New York in 1958, where she hoped to secure a dealer, she set to work transcribing the motifs she had developed on paper to a series of oil on canvas works that would become known as her first mature paintings. A mere eighteen months after her immigration to the US, Kusama was awarded her first solo exhibition at Brata Gallery—an East Village artist’s co-operative focused on the legacy of Abstract Expressionism. This early success was portentous of the decade to come, as the artist became increasingly embedded in the avant-garde scene, garnering the attention of eminent critics—including a young Donald Judd—and exhibiting widely at a variety of venues. Her first total-environment installation was presented at Castellane Gallery in 1964 and two years later she was invited to participate in the Venice Biennale. Immersed in the highly experimental milieu of performers and activists populating downtown New York, Kusama also staged a series of actions and happenings, all of which incorporated the repetitive, allover patterns pervasive in her painting and installation works.

While her performances, paintings, and installations earned consistent media and critical attention throughout the 1960s, the early 1970s witnessed an abrupt attenuation of press, a circumstance that ultimately led Kusama to return to Tokyo in 1973. Her primary interest shifted toward her fiction writing practice, ceramics, and a series mixed media works on paper conceived as an elegy to her close friend Joseph Cornell, whose death in 1972 deeply affected her. After undergoing hospitalization for her mental illness several times between 1975 and 1977, she opted to make the Siewa Hospital in the Shinjuku neighborhood of Tokyo her permanent home while maintaining a studio space nearby. Kusama returned to painting and sculpture in the 1980s, embracing acrylic as her preferred medium and expanding on the various repetitive, accumulation-based motifs that had defined her early work.


[i] Yayoi Kusama, “Interview with Gordon Brown (extract) 1964,” Yayoi Kusama (New York, NY: Phaidon Press, Inc., 2000), 103.

 

The 1980s also witnessed a blossoming of Kusama’s writing practice, and she would eventually publish fourteen novels, a collection of poems and an autobiography by 2002. Constantly mining her past work for inspiration, Kusama returned to her installation practice in the late 1990s, staging a series of room-sized works using a range of materials including balloons, fluorescent stickers, mirrored orbs, and plastic flowers. The turn of the century also offered a welcome resurgence in public interest for the artist’s work, and a steady stream of invitations to group and solo exhibitions allowed her career to thrive on an international stage. An inveterate businesswoman, Kusama seized the opportunity to develop her signature motifs into an instantly recognizable brand, embracing opportunities to collaborate on commercial projects and merchandizing. In 2009 Kusama returned to drawing and painting with renewed enthusiasm, generating a prolific body of acrylic on canvas works that further develop the pantheon of motifs developed throughout her long career, bringing the continuity and endless permutations of her work that undergird the formal concerns of her oeuvre. Emphasizing the artist’s relentless drive to experience a sense of cosmic unity, her Infinity Mirror Room series has also continued to expand and proliferate, providing perhaps the most penetrating insight into the artist’s vision of eternity.

Kusama has been the subject of numerous traveling solo exhibitions including Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama 1958-1968 (1998), organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1998); Yayoi Kusama: Eternity-Modernity (2004), organized by the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; Yayoi Kusama (2011-12), organized by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, which traveled to the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, the Tate Modern, London and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Infinity Mirrors (2017-19), a survey organized by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC, which traveled to the Seattle Art Museum, The Broad, Los Angeles, the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia; and Yayoi Kusama: Life Is the Heart of the Rainbow (2017), the first large-scale exhibition of Kusama’s work presented in Southeast Asia, which opened at the National Gallery of Singapore and traveled to the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, Australia and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara, Jakarta. Her most recent public installation in New York, KUSAMA: COSMIC NATURE, is on view at The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx through October 31, 2021.

Kusama’s art may be found in museum collections worldwide, including the Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris, France); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington, DC); Los Angeles County Museum of Art (CA); The Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY); National Museum of Modern Art (Tokyo, Japan); Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam, The Netherlands); Tate Gallery (London, United Kingdom); Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN); and the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY).

Kusama continues to live and work in Tokyo.