Yayoi Kusama is known for her immersive installations that carry the viewer into a sense of the infinite. Her work’s appearance at galleries all over the globe attract queues of viewers looking to snap up a coveted IG pic or to simply lean in to the void and feel swallowed up by the eternal.
Adding to the reflective concept of Narcissus Garden is the colonial context in which it is being exhibited. Sydney Living Museums (SLM) is bringing the work to Museum of Sydney and then on to the heritage haunts of Vaucluse House and Elizabeth Bay House. The intention is for the viewers’ reflections to extend beyond themselves and the room in which it is installed also to reflect the historical style and architecture of these colonial spaces.
Named after a myth by Ovid named Echo and Narcissus, Kusama’s intention was for everyone to appreciate their appearance. According to the myth, Narcissus stood over a body of water and, upon looking at his feet, saw his reflection. So beautiful was his reflection in the mirror that he was unable to turn away.. By creating these orbs, Kusama is empowering you to see your own reflection and, in turn, fall in love with it.
In these strange times of distancing and isolation, it is particularly positive if you appreciate and care for yourself.
Essay by Danielle Shang
Today there are few female artists who are more visible to a wide range of international audiences than Yayoi Kusama, who was born in 1929 in Japan. Kusama is a self-taught artist who now chooses to live in a private Tokyo mental health facility, while prolifically producing art in various media in her studio nearby. Her highly constructed persona and self-proclaimed life-long history of insanity have been the subject of scrutiny and critiques for decades.
Kusama arrived in New York City from Japan in 1958 and immediately approached dealers and artists alike to promote her work. Within the first few years she began to exhibit and associate herself with seminal artists and critics, such as Donald Judd, Joseph Cornell, Yves Klein, and Lucio Fontana who later was instrumental in her realizing Narcissus Garden.
In 1965, she mounted her first mirror installation Infinity Mirror Room-Phalli’s Field at Castellane Gallery in New York. A mirrored room without a ceiling was filled with colorfully dotted, phallus-like stuffed objects on the floor. The repeated reflections in the mirrors conveyed the illusion of a continuous sea of multiplied phalli expanding to its infinity. This playful and erotic exhibition immediately attracted the media’s attention.
In 1966 at the 33rd Venice Biennale, Kusama was not officially invited to exhibit. She did receive encouragement and financial support from the great Italian Arte Povera artist, Lucio Fontana and permission from the chairman of the Biennale Committee to stage 1,500 mass-produced plastic silver globes on the lawn outside the Italian Pavilion.
The tightly arranged 1,500 shimmering balls constructed an infinite reflective field in which the images of the artist, the visitors, the architecture, and the landscape were repeated, distorted, and projected by the convex mirror surfaces that produced virtual images appearing closer and smaller than reality. The size of each sphere was similar to that of a fortune-teller’s crystal ball. When gazing into it, the viewer only saw his/her own reflection staring back, forcing a confrontation with one’s own vanity and ego.
During the opening week, Kusama placed two signs at the installation: “NARCISSUS GARDEN, KUSAMA” and “YOUR NARCISSIUM [sic] FOR SALE” on the lawn. Acting like a street peddler, she sold the mirror balls to passersby for two dollars each. Her interactive performance and installation received international press coverage. This original installation of Narcissus Garden from 1966 has often been interpreted as Kusama’s commentary on the commercialization of art.
AND FOR THOSE WHO STAY CLOSER TO HOME, IF HOME IS NYC, THIS IS THE MOMENT TO VISIT THE NEW YORK BOTANICAL SOCIETY, WITH A GREAT COVID-CONSCIOUS OUTDOOR EXHIBITION OF YAYOI KUSAMA!
AND FOR THOSE CHANTING, MORE KUSAMA, VISIT THE ONLINE RETROSPECTIVE AT GROPIUS BAU!