Here’s looking at Yayoi Kusama

This week, celebrated and visionary artist Yayoi Kusama turns 86. Australian audiences might best know her as the creator of the spectacular Obliteration Room at the GOMA Children’s Art Centre in Brisbane, from one of her previous exhibitions at the gallery, or her showing at MCA in 2009. Instagrammers might recognise her as the brilliant artist behind the much photographed Infinity Mirrored rooms. Either way or otherwise, you should know her.
Photo: Yayoi Kusama Studios Inc
Yayoi Kusama is the world’s most highly-priced living female artist. She moves with ease through many worlds: a novelist, painter and sculptor who presents performance art, room-sized presentations and works that live both indoors and out. As well as drifting between the literary, fashion, design and art spheres, Kusama is regarded as being one of the reigning masters behind the Minimalism movement. She is just as wildly creative and inventive now as she has ever been, and she remains to be one of the most important artists of this generation – and one of the most influential women.
A master of immersive art, Kusama is known for her large scale displays. Her touring retrospective was so popular that at Museo Tayamo in Mexico City, extra security staff needed to be hired just to keep up with demand. Perhaps the beauty of the engaging nature that is so often present in Yayoi Kusama’s art, is that it excites everyone. The long and snail-paced lines that often form outside galleries housing works by Kusama are not made up of your average gallery goer – often, the most enthusiastic viewers are those who haven’t ever been to a showing before, or parents with little children.
Photo: Infinity Mirrored Room
The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, 2013.
Maris Hutchinson and Yayoi Kusama Studios Inc
Kusama’s solo show at Victoria Miro is a reverent example of her sculpting: graphic pumpkins sitting peacefully in the gardens. Pumpkins are a motif which appear many times in her work, but the dotted sculptures which sit in the water garden are the first time the artist has worked with bronze on such a large scale. Raised in a wealthy family who made their living running nurseries and cultivating seeds, Kusama has an appreciation for the natural world in general – but most especially pumpkins. In Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, the artist is quoted as saying “‘Pumpkin head’ was an epithet used to disparage ugly, ignorant men, and the phrase ‘Put eyes and a nose on a pumpkin’ evoked a pudgy and unattractive woman. It seems that pumpkins do not inspire much respect. But I was enchanted by their charming and winsome form. What appealed to me most was the pumpkin’s generous unpretentiousness. That and its solid spiritual base” I can’t say that I’ve ever thought quite so intensely about a pumpkin as that, but it does make some curious kind of sense. And that’s what I think one of the many attractions of Kusama’s work is; how she gently forces you to see things her way, in a different way, and inspires a new kind of sense about it all.
Photo: Victoria Miro and Yayoi Kusama Studios Inc.
In her 86th year and showing no signs of slowing down, Yayoi Kusama has lived a most full and inspired life. She has 9 exhibitions to her name already this year, as well as her permanent fixture at the Matsumoto City Museum of Art in Japan. And then there’s the rest, still thriving on the excited adoration of the people who flock ever still to just catch a glimpse.
Additional photographs courtesy of Jason Schmidt, Mark Sherwood and Yayoi Kusama Studios Inc