Airport, please! heading to London to experience the obsessive vision of infinity with Yayoi Kusama at Tate Modern
The nine decades of Yayoi Kusama’s life have taken her from rural Japan to the New York art scene to contemporary Tokyo, in a career in which she has continuously innovated and re-invented her style. Well-known for her repeating dot patterns, her art encompasses an astonishing variety of media, including painting, drawing, sculpture, film, performance and immersive installation. It ranges from works on paper featuring intense semi-abstract imagery, to soft sculpture known as ‘Accumulations’, to her ‘Infinity Net’ paintings, made up of carefully repeated arcs of paint built up into large patterns. Since 1977 Kusama has lived voluntarily in a psychiatric institution, and much of her work has been marked with obsessiveness and a desire to escape from psychological trauma. In an attempt to share her experiences, she creates installations that immerse the viewer in her obsessive vision of endless dots and nets or infinitely mirrored space.
At the centre of the art world in the 1960s, she came into contact with artists including Donald Judd, Andy Warhol, Joseph Cornell, and Claus Oldenberg influencing many along the way. She has traded on her identity as an ‘outsider’ in many contexts – as a female artist in a male-dominated society, as a Japanese person in the Western art world, and as a victim of her own neurotic and obsessional symptoms. After achieving fame and notoriety with groundbreaking art happenings and events, she returned to her country of birth and is now Japan’s most prominent contemporary artist.
The post-covid world has opened us up to the fragility of mental well-being, to isolation, and minor insanity and to obsession, worrying about the present and the future, the job market. Kusama has spent her entire life in a post-covid world.
This is a varied, spectacular exhibition of a truly unique artist. There has never been an exhibition of this size of her work in the UK and this is an unmissable opportunity for both Kusama fans and those new to her work. This is a time of intense confinement and self-absorption. The opportunity to wrap oneself up in Kusama’s infinity nets and time travel in her infinity rooms is particularly seductive.
Yayoi Kusama’s (b. 1929) work has transcended two of the most important art movements of the second half of the twentieth century: Pop art and Minimalism. Her highly influential career spans paintings, performances, room-size presentations, outdoor sculptural installations, literary works, films, fashion, design, and interventions within existing architectural structures, which allude at once to microscopic and macroscopic universes.
Born in 1929 in Matsumoto, Japan, Kusama’s work has been featured widely in both solo and group presentations. She presented her first solo show in her native Japan in 1952. In the mid-1960s, she established herself in New York as an important avant-garde artist by staging groundbreaking and influential happenings, events, and exhibitions. Her work gained renewed widespread recognition in the late 1980s following a number of international solo exhibitions, including shows at the Center for International Contemporary Arts, New York, and the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, both of which took place in 1989. She represented Japan in 1993 at the 45th Venice Biennale, to much critical acclaim. In 1998, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, co-organized Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958–1968, which toured to the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1998-1999), and Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (1999).
More recently, in 2011 to 2012, her work was the subject of a large- scale retrospective that traveled to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Tate Modern, London; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. From 2012 through 2015, three major museum solo presentations of the artist’s work simultaneously traveled to major museums throughout Japan, Asia, and Central and South America. In 2015, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark, organized a comprehensive overview of Kusama’s practice that traveled to Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter, Høvikodden, Norway; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; and Helsinki Art Museum. In 2017-2019, a major survey of the artist’s work, Infinity Mirrors, was presented at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Seattle Art Museum; The Broad, Los Angeles; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; The Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia. Yayoi Kusama: Life Is the Heart of the Rainbow, which marked the first large-scale exhibition of Kusama’s work presented in Southeast Asia, opened at the National Gallery of Singapore in 2017 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.
Kusama has been represented by David Zwirner since 2013. The gallery’s inaugural exhibition in 2013 with the artist, titled I Who Have Arrived in Heaven, spanned all three spaces at West 19th Street in New York. Her second gallery solo show was held at David Zwirner, New York, in 2015. Subsequent solo shows of the artist’s work at David Zwirner, New York, include Give Me Love in 2015; Festival of Life, concurrently presented with Infinity Nets, in 2017; and EVERY DAY I PRAY FOR LOVE in 2019. In 2021, David Zwirner, Victoria Miro, and Ota Fine Arts jointly presented I WANT YOUR TEARS TO FLOW WITH THE WORDS I WROTE in London, Tokyo, and New York.
The first comprehensive retrospective of the artist’s work was on view at Gropius Bau, Berlin in 2021, and is currently on view at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art until April 23, 2022. KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature was on view at The New York Botanical Garden in 2021. Tate Modern, London, is presenting Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms through June 12, 2022.
Yayoi Kusama Museum, a museum dedicated to the artist’s work, opened October 1, 2017, in Tokyo with the inaugural exhibition Creation is a Solitary Pursuit, Love is What Brings You Closer to Art. In 2021, Midway between Mystery and Symbol: Yayoi Kusama’s Monochrome, the museum’s eighth exhibition devoted to her work, was on view.
Work by the artist is held in museum collections worldwide, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Tate, London; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; among numerous others. Kusama lives and works in Tokyo.
As we head into a perilous war with Russia, we yearn for a perfect space in which to feel safe. Her exhibits command queues around the block in Chelsea, waiting for the opportunity to immerse themselves in her latest psychotic world on exhibit at David Zwirner.