Yayoi Kusama

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Selected Press

Yayoi Kusama: 'My mind is full of paintings'

87-year-old Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is celebrated as an avant-garde visionary, known for her iconic polka dot spectacles and immersive environments. She has a history of mental illness and has used art as a form of therapy. Simultaneous exhibitions opened this week in Washington and Tokyo, celebrating her career and the different way she sees the world.

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How Yayoi Kusama Predicted The Power Of The Internet

The exhibition "Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors" opened Thursday at Washington D.C.'s Hirshhorn Gallery. The show features 70 years of the iconic Japanese artist's work, including six of her buzzy "infinity rooms." The mirrored, enclosed spaces are meant to be experienced alone to give the viewer an impression of entering a boundless realm with surfaces reflecting one another back and forth, forever.

Every day, thousands of museum visitors are expected to wait in line to enter these profoundly trippy rooms for approximately one minute at a time. Often, patrons will commemorate this minute with a photograph. The photos will likely, then, be uploaded to various social networks. Each digital image, itself a snapshot of infinite reflected images, will join an endless stream of so many more. As the museum hashtag aptly calls it, #InfiniteKusama.

So even if you never see "Infinity Mirrors" in person, you'll surely see it spread across your various timelines and feeds. As images of the exhibition disperse wildly across the web, Kusama's work operates in a state of in-between, with one foot in the material museum space and another in the immaterial world of the internet. 

When Kusama began creating art as a child in 1930s Japan, there was, of course, no such thing as the internet. And yet–through her paintings, sculptures and, most of all, "infinity room" installations–the artist seems to divine the future of a sprawling space where our immaterial selves can proliferate, congregate, mutate and network.

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Yayoi Kusama, the 'Infinity Mirrors' visionary

Don't ask Yayoi Kusama what's been the highlight of her career. She might be 87 years old, internationally renowned and about to have major, simultaneous exhibitions in the United States and Japan, but she's not done yet.

"It's still coming. I'm going to create it in the future," said Kusama, often described as Japan's most successful living artist, at her studio in central Tokyo, paint in her red wig and on her glasses.

Kusama, who has a history of neurosis and has lived as a voluntary resident at a mental hospital a block away for about four decades, had been up at 3 a.m. painting, partly because she couldn't sleep and partly because she wanted to squeeze in time for work before the engine of Yayoi Kusama Inc. started up for the day.

"I'm old now, but I am still going to create more work and better work. More than I have in the past," she said. "My mind is full of paintings."

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The Unstoppable Yayoi Kusama

Photo by Nobuyoshi Araki for WSJ Magazine

It's hardly Tokyo's most inspiring area, but here in Shinjuku ward, amid a shambolic jumble of low-rise housing, is where artist Yayoi Kusama keeps her fastidiously maintained studio: an elegantly unadorned concrete building that strikes a conspicuous note in the otherwise nondescript quarter. Almost every day, she comes here to paint from 9 a.m. until sunset, often working for eight-hour stretches. On one mid-December morning, Kusama, 87, is laboring intently over a sky-blue canvas, halfway through her latest work in a series called My Eternal Souls that she began in 2009. It now includes over 500 paintings. Some 130 of these works appear in the retrospective Yayoi Kusama: My Eternal Soul, which opened recently at the National Art Center in Tokyo.

Quietly directing two of her assistants to clear the cluttered table and fetch tea and biscuits, Kusama turns to welcome me while several other staffers tap away at their computers in a small office upstairs. As active and prolific as she's ever been during a career that spans six decades, Kusama adheres to a rigorous, somewhat ascetic routine. "I don't usually have a fixed idea of what I want to do and don't know how the painting will turn out. Countless ideas come into my head, and it's not my role to decide how the final product should be," says Kusama, wearing the fire-engine-red, bobbed wig that has become her signature and a dress emblazoned with a pink polka-dot pattern from one of her paintings. "Once I begin painting, though, the image becomes clear. And when it's finished, I realize that this is the painting that I’ve been trying to make."

Over the past two years, her gallery representatives have been dispatched to the openings of museum shows in Buenos Aires, Moscow, Shanghai and Stockholm on her behalf, so that Kusama can remain focused on making new work. Since 1977, when she voluntarily admitted herself to the psychiatric hospital where she has resided for the past four decades, she has tried to spend most of her time at the studio, which lies a few minutes down the road from her living quarters.

Just one day after the Tokyo exhibition opened, another wide-ranging exhibition kicked off at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. Titled Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, it features six of her mirror rooms, dating to the '60s. Kusama conceived of these installations in part as an opportunity to savor the supreme vanity of regarding one's likeness reflected endlessly.

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Yayoi Kusama Gives Philip Johnson's Glass House a Polka Dot Makeover

The Glass House, architect Philip Johnson's semi-transparent former home, has a way of disappearing into the landscape of its surrounding 49 green acres in New Canaan, Connecticut. This month, though, it's wearing a party hat: The Glass House is the latest target of Yayoi Kusama's Pepsi red polka dots, an installation series called "Dots Obsession" that’s marking what would be Johnson's 110th birthday, and 10 years of the site being open to the public.

During her late-career resurgence, Kusama has been leaving her polka-dotted mark on everything and everyone from Airbnb beds to George Clooney. In late 2014, the team at the Glass House began dredging the property's pond, a nearly year-long process whose completion curator Irene Shum decided merited a celebration. It's a tricky space for an art intervention–the meadow covers over half of the property–but Kusama's "Narcissus Garden" installation, first orchestrated 50 years ago at the 1966 Venice Biennale, immediately came to Shum's mind. She reached out to Kusama's studio in Japan directly, and "they were game," Shum recalled.

Freshly made over, the pond was soon filled with 1,300 of Kusama's floating, stainless steel orbs, a takeover of the lower half of the estate announced near the entrance with another Kusama trademark–a giant, reflective pumpkin. But the ever ambitious artist, who's now 87, wasn't finished; she asked Shum if she could show more recent work, too. Kusama was itching to try out her window installations, which started out as a commercial venture with Louis Vuitton at Selfridges in London, in a place that would lend itself more to a site-specific installation.

What better place to test things out than a house made entirely of glass?

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On the Glass House's Pond, Yayoi Kusama's Clattering Polka Dots

Thirteen-hundred glimmering spheres float on the pond below Philip Johnson's Glass House, in the Lower Meadow on the renowned architect's 49-acre estate.

Just under a foot in diameter, the stainless steel orbs reflect the environment, creating seemingly endless echoes of the towering trees, the changing skies and the multiple arches of the pavilion Johnson designed at the pond's edge. Hollow, the spheres weigh less than a pound each, so when the wind blows, they drift, sometimes in groups, sometimes one by one. When they touch, they clatter gently, like a chorus of muffled typewriters.

This is the newest iteration of "Narcissus Garden," by Yayoi Kusama, an 87-year-old Japanese artist whose lifetime of works–paintings, drawings, sculptures, prints, installations, performance "happenings"–have been defined by compulsively repetitive patterns, most famously polka dots. On the Glass House website, Ms. Kusama is quoted as saying: "The single dot is my own life, and I am a single particle amongst billions."

"Narcissus Garden" was first realized 50 years ago as a land installation at the 33rd Venice Biennale and has since been reinstalled internationally in numerous configurations; its last appearance on water in the United States was in Central Park as part of the 2004 Whitney Biennial. At the Glass House, it is one of three pieces that make up "Yayoi Kusama: Narcissus Garden," organized to commemorate the 110th anniversary of Johnson's birth and the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Glass House to the public.

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TIME 100 | Artists: Yayoi Kusama

Photo by Alex Majoli — Magnum for TIME

The eternal radical

I first met Yayoi Kusama in 2006 when I visited her studio in Tokyo. I’d been told she was quite a special person, and it was incredibly true. She arrived to meet me in a colored wig and a caftan-like creation of hers with all her signature spots. Her eyes never left mine, and she held my hand often as she talked to me. She kept repeating certain phrases: “We must create, we must create, it’s important that we create.” We spent a few hours together, and every time I tried to leave, she’d pull me back in. It made perfect sense with the art she creates—the intensity, the repetition. She just felt like the embodiment of what she makes.

This is a woman who’s been around for a very long time, who’s done some really radical and revolutionary things in the art world. I admire her unapologetic dedication to her vision, which still allows for plenty of growth and change. When people look back at her work decades from now, they’ll see that her idea of creation and infinity has an eternal endurance.

Jacobs is a fashion designer and the former creative director of Louis Vuitton

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Inside Yayoi Kusama's New Exhibit, 'Give Me Love'

New York’s most popular open house this weekend was in Chelsea, where a line stretched down the block Saturday morning for Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's newest exhibition, "Give Me Love," at the David Zwirner gallery.

The scene inside the vast garage-like gallery space resembled an (albeit very hip) children's birthday party, as toddlers and adults alike wandered Ms. Kusama's large-scale model of a suburban home with sheets of bright polka-dot stickers. The installation, called "The Obliteration Room," premiered in 2002 and comes complete with an American flag and plastic lawn furniture out front.

Crowds are standard at the artist's blockbuster exhibitions. In a study of museum attendance released in April, the Art Newspaper named Ms. Kusama one of the most popular artists of last year. Touring shows through Asia and South and Central America drew crowds in the thousands. Her touring retrospective, "Infinite Obsession," which features more than a hundred works and is currently on view in Santiago, Chile, has been seen by over two million people, according to the study.

She’s no less popular in New York. Her 2013 show at David Zwirner, "I Who Have Arrived in Heaven," drew close to 2,500 people per day, with wait times of up to eight hours, said the gallery. The show featured two popular mirrored "Infinity Rooms," where visitors would line up to snap an otherworldly selfie they could then share on social media.

The gallery is hoping for more of the same with "Give Me Love." Inside the yellow house (No. 9393), visitors were invited to apply polka-dot stickers to the completely whitewashed furniture. Blank picture frames, a neatly-set table, and a dog bed—all white—sported clusters of bright polka-dots applied by the over 1,300 visitors on Saturday. Polka-dots peppered the leaves of a houseplant, the spines of books on a shelf, the keys of a laptop computer and magnets on a refrigerator. Several visitors walked out with a souvenir polka-dot or two on their person as well.

Along with "The Obliteration Room" installation, the show features 17 colorful new paintings from the artist’s "My Eternal Soul" series, and several large-scale pumpkin sculptures. The stainless steel pumpkins are enormous—up to 70 inches high—and feature mirrored surfaces and (you guessed it) polka-dots.

The show will be on display at David Zwirner's 19th Street galleries until June 13.

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Lights, Mirrors, Instagram! #ArtSensation

Yayoi Kusama’s 'Mirrored Room' at David Zwirner Gallery

Adam Friedman emerged from the twinkling lights and reflecting water of Yayoi Kusama’s "infinity room" and groped for the right words. "Ethereal," he said. Pause. "Calming." Another pause. "Calming, ethereal and meditative, all at the same time."

These were hard-won adjectives under the circumstances. Mr. Friedman, a 28-year-old computer salesman from Highland Park, N.J., had just spent nearly three hours in line at the David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea, pelted intermittently by sleet and rain, inching slowly toward a very brief reward: 45 seconds in a mirror-lined room hung with 75 colored LED bulbs that flickered and pulsed in a celestial celebration. On a typical day, about 2,500 people turn out to take this brief trip to Ms. Kusama's private cosmos. Almost from the moment that her multipart exhibition, "I Who Have Arrived in Heaven," opened on Nov. 8, "Infinity Mirrored Room — The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away" has become an art-world attraction to rival "Rain Room," the immersive installation presented at the Museum of Modern Art this year.

"We had lines at the opening," said Anita Ragusa, the manager of David Zwirner's 19th Street galleries. "Once it hit social media, and people told their friends about it, everyone wanted to make sure to see it."

The line usually begins forming about an hour before the gallery opens at 10 a.m. Throughout the day, it moves at a snail's pace, as docents, hired to manage the flow, admit one or two people at a time to the twinkling-lights chamber, with the slow, steady regularity of a drip feed. About 1,000 will make it in. The show closes Dec. 21.

It is not the usual gallery crowd. Social media, especially photographs on Instagram, have spread the word to a broad, mostly young, demographic: tourists, students, followers of Ms. Kusama's work, who saw her installation "Fireflies on the Water" at the retrospective of her work at the Whitney Museum of American Art last year.

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