Yayoi Kusama: In Infinity | Moderna Museet Stockholm

I am very happy to share a new article from our contributing author Janneke with you today.  This time Janneke visited the Moderna Museet in Stockholm for us.

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“One day I was looking at the red flower patterns of the tablecloth on a table, and when I looked up I saw the same pattern covering the ceiling, the windows and the walls, and finally all over the room, my body and the universe. I felt as if I had begun to self-obliterate, to revolve in the infinity of endless time and the absoluteness of space, and be reduced to nothingness.”

This is how Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (*1929) describes one of her patterned colour painting as well as the development of her artistic style, and it is probably one of her the most famous quotes.

Installation view of Kusama in Infinity Mirror Room - Phalli's Field, at her solo exhibition "Floor Show" at R. Castellane Gallery, New York, 1965 © Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore, Victoria Miro Gallery, London, David Zwirner, New York
Installation view of Kusama in Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli’s Field, at her solo exhibition “Floor Show” at R. Castellane Gallery, New York, 1965 © Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore, Victoria Miro Gallery, London, David Zwirner, New York

Legend has it that Kusama’s unique imagery and work stem from the hallucinations she has experienced since her early childhood, as she also writes in her autobiography. So far about the artist’s legend. But Kusama’s explaination may also apply to her ‘obsession’ with polka dots. Kusama is well known for covering canvasses, objects and sculptures, trees and even living people with all together millions of polka dots. Actually, those dots became some kind of trademark or leitmotif for Kusama.

I was lucky to vistit the exhibition Yayoi Kusama – In Infinity in the Modern Museum in Stockholm a while ago, and I indeed felt like I was stuck in some weird dream wandering through the museum, passing by enormous red balloons with white polka dots and other great curiosity. Within the topic of (in)finity you might get a little melancholic, but actually, I have rarely felt so happy in an exhibition, though I believe that museums should be happy, constructive places overall, and that one or another museum should really lose some of its serious- and snootieness. Anyway, if you have not been in Stockholm until now, you have missed to chance to see the wonderful Kusama-exhibition. That is just too bad, but there are recently Kusama-exhibitions (and -installations) all over the world. You should not miss the opportunity to see one of them!

In Stockholm, the tour began with early works from Japan where Kusama studied art and traditional Japanese conventions in Kyoto. Her rare early works already included some of Kusama’s later artistic vocabulary, but are more cautious and magical like some kind of ethno art. Most of her early works were destroyed by Kusama before she left for New York in the 1950s. When she was invited to the Biennial at the Brooklyn Museum in 1955 Kusama decided to attempt to make in the USA, where the art scene was ruled by Jackson Pollock and Pop art artists like Claes Oldenburg. Kusama might be considered as pop art herself, but works like ‘Infinity Nets’ actually derive from a self-restraining working method, namely constantly repeating a certain gesture, and are therefor from another quality.

Kusama with Pumpkin Yayoi Kusama, Kusama with Pumpkin, 2010 © Yayoi Kusama Installation View: Aichi Triennale 2010. Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/ Singapore; Victoria Miro Gallery, London; David Zwirner, New York; and KUSAMA Enterprise
Kusama with Pumpkin
Yayoi Kusama, Kusama with Pumpkin, 2010 © Yayoi Kusama
Installation View: Aichi Triennale 2010. Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/ Singapore; Victoria Miro Gallery, London; David Zwirner, New York; and KUSAMA Enterprise

Kusama started covering almost everything with dots and nets: Walls and ceilings, interior, people, and even herself, eventually stating that she wants to live her life as “a dot among millions of other dots”.

Kusama’s later work might seem to be rather plain, simple and bold, but at the same time it is very expressive and appears to be pretty poetic with a strong affect on its audience. I especially enjoyed her ‘Infinity Mirrored Room – Hymn of Life’ from 2015, a small and darkened room enlightened by numerous balloons with black dots that constantly change their color. And also her ‘Infinity room’, a small room with white and red dotted stuffed objects allover the place, with mirrors on the walls and on the ceiling. Unfortunately, of course, you were only able to stay in that room for what felt like a couple of seconds, because there was a long queue waiting. If you do not like crowded exhibitions, but want to revel in the art all by yourself, you should probably not visit a Kusama-exhibition.

One of the reasons why Kusama is so famous nowadays is surely that she designed a collection for luxury fashion giant Louis Vuitton in 2012. That made her become a brand overall, although Kusama has been involved in fashion a longe time before. Back in the 1960s she designed some kind of performance gear with round holes that do not cover the whole body but show parts of it. Kusama – fittingly – sold this kind of art fashion under her brand called ‘The Nude Fashion Company’. It was supposed to be an alternative to the industrialized fashion culture. So as Kusama worked together with Vuitton one might wonder if she finally turned from ‘art’ to ‘mass good’, but she made it clear that her goal is not to sell products, but to bring her message into the world, a message of happiness and peace. And that is quite credible.

Yayoi Kusama – In Infinity was organised by the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark, in association with Heine-Onstad Center, Norway, the Helsinki Art Museum, Finland, and Moderna Museet/ArkDes, Sweden. Curator: Marie Laurberg, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.

cover image: Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirrored Room – Hymn of Life, 2015 © Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore, Victoria Miro Gallery, London and David Zwirner, New York. Photo: Vegard Kleven/HOK

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