Tate Modern is currently hosting the biggest exhibition of Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama’s work in the UK to date and it’s definitely one of this year’s must-sees.
The life and work of the nonagenarian artist who left rural Japan to become a central figure on the New York art scene unfolds through a series of rooms filled with paintings, installations, films and performance – an assault on the senses that leaves the viewer feeling overwhelmed by the variety and breadth of her work.
Born in Matsumoto in 1929, Kusama began her artistic career by painting the devastation in post-war Japan on the seed sacks from her parents’ business. She absorbed both eastern and western influences into her work, which developed from small, abstract illustrative pieces into her famous large-scaled ‘Infinity Net’ paintings and the ‘Accumulations’ soft sculptures.
Kusama was a notorious figure in the New York art scene in the ‘60s and ‘70s, mixing with Andy Warhol, Donald Judd, Joseph Cornell and Claes Oldenburg, but she always identified herself as an outsider – both as a woman working in the male-dominated art scene, as a Japanese person living in America and as an individual living with her own obsessive compulsions – all of which are apparent in her work. In 1977 Kusama voluntarily admitted herself to a psychiatric institution, where she has lived ever since, creating her art in a studio near the hospital.
Kusama constantly reinvented herself, absorbing new influences into her work – dazzlingly bright, cartoony pieces which anticipated the work of Takashi Murakami and even the Studio Ghibli animations that skilfully blend ‘cute’ with macabre. Interestingly, Murakami collaborated with Louis Vuitton on those famous handbags which featured his smiley-faced flower designs, and Vuitton also supported the Tate's Kusama exhibition.
The obsessiveness of the infinity paintings – small white dots on dark backgrounds, endlessly repeated over and over – a testament to the artist’s endurance as well as her creative vision, and the works created from thousands of stickers – airmail stamps, and the famous repeating dot paintings. Endless spots cover canvases and in one case, an entire room from floor to ceiling.
Perhaps the most immersive of Kusama’s works is the astonishing space she created especially for the exhibition, called Infinity Mirrored Room - Filled with the Brilliance of Life which was a unique way to understand the artist’s view of the world.
As well as the main exhibition, on March 24 the Tate is also holding a special day called Infinite Kusama with Tate Collective, which is a project that brings together young people aged 15 to 25 to experience and respond to the Yayoi Kusama's work. Highlights include an immersive afternoon of drop-in art, fashion and sound workshops culminating in a UV silent disco and an online competition to win a trip to Yayoi Kusama’s studio in Tokyo initiated by the Louis Vuitton Young Arts project and REcreativeUK.com.
Yayoi Kusama at Tate Modern runs until 5 June 2012. Book tickets at tate.org.uk
Picture credits: Self-Obliteration No.2 1967, © Yayoi Kusama and © Yayoi Kusama Studios Inc., Yayoi Kusama 1965 Courtesy of Victoria Miro Gallery, London and Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo © Yayoi Kusama, courtesy Yayoi Kusama studio inc. Photo: Eikoh Hosoe, I'm Here, but Nothing, 2000/2012 ,© Yayoi Kusama Photo credit: Lucy Dawkins/Tate Photography, Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show, 1963 © Yayoi Kusama Photo credit: Lucy Dawkins/Tate Photography, Infinity Mirrored Room - Filled with the Brilliance of Life, 2011, © Yayoi Kusama Photo credit: Lucy Dawkins/Tate Photography, Yayoi Kusama Photo credit: Lucy Dawkins/Tate Photography