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22 March 1929
Matsumoto, Nagano, Japan
|Known for||Painting, drawing, sculpture, installation art, performance art, film, fiction, fashion|
|Movement||Pop art, minimalism, feminist art|
22 March 1929
Matsumoto, Nagano, Japan
|Known for||Painting, drawing, sculpture, installation art, performance art, film, fiction, fashion|
|Movement||Pop art, minimalism, feminist art|
Yayoi Kusama (草間 彌生 or 弥生 Kusama Yayoi?, born March 22, 1929) is a Japanese artist and writer. Throughout her career she has worked in a wide variety of media, including painting, collage, sculpture, performance art, and environmental installations, most of which exhibit her thematic interest in psychedelic colors, repetition and pattern. A precursor of the pop art, minimalist and feminist art movements, Kusama influenced contemporaries such as Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg. Although largely forgotten after departing the New York art scene in the early 1970s, Kusama is now acknowledged as one of the most important living artists to come out of Japan, and an important voice of the avant-garde.
Born in Matsumoto, Nagano into an upper-middle-class family of seedling merchants, Kusama started creating art at an early age, going on to study Nihonga painting in Kyoto in 1948. Frustrated with this distinctly Japanese style, she became interested in the European and American avant-garde, staging several solo exhibitions of her paintings in Matsumoto and Tokyo during the 1950s. In 1957 she moved to the United States, settling down in New York City where she produced a series of paintings influenced by the abstract expressionist movement. Switching to sculpture and installation as her primary mediums, Kusama became a fixture of the New York avant-garde, having her works exhibited alongside the likes of Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and George Segal during the early 1960s, where she became associated with the pop art movement. Embracing the rise of the hippie counterculture of the late 1960s, Kusama came to public attention when she organized a series of happenings in which naked participants were painted with brightly colored polka dots.
In 1973, Kusama moved back to her native Japan, where she found the art scene far more conservative than that in New York. Becoming an art dealer, her business folded after several years, and after experiencing psychiatric problems, in 1977 she voluntarily admitted herself to a hospital, where she has spent the rest of her life. From here, she continued to produce artworks in a variety of mediums, as well as launching a literary career by publishing several novels, a poetry collection and an autobiography.
Kusama's work is based in conceptual art and shows some attributes of feminism, minimalism, surrealism, Art Brut, pop art, and abstract expressionism, and is infused with autobiographical, psychological, and sexual content. Kusama is also a published novelist and poet, and has created notable work in film and fashion design. Major retrospectives of her work have been held at the Museum of Modern Art in 1998, the Whitney Museum in 2012, and Tate Modern in 2012. In 2008, Christies New York sold a work by her for $5.1 million, then a record for a living female artist.
Born in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, as the fourth child in a prosperous and conservative family, whose wealth was derived from the management of wholesale seed nurseries, Kusama has experienced hallucinations and severe obsessive thoughts since childhood, often of a suicidal nature. She claims that as a small child she suffered severe physical abuse by her mother. In 1948, she left home to enter senior class at Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts, where she studied Nihonga painting, a rigorous formal style developed during the Meiji period; she graduated the following year. She hated the rigidities of the master-disciple system where students were supposed to imbibe tradition through the sensei. "When I think of my life in Kyoto," she is quoted as saying, "I feel like vomiting."
By 1950, Kusama was depicting abstracted natural forms in watercolor, gouache and oil, primarily on paper. She began covering surfaces (walls, floors, canvases, and later, household objects and naked assistants) with the polka dots that would become a trademark of her work. The vast fields of polka dots, or "infinity nets," as she called them, were taken directly from her hallucinations. The earliest recorded work in which she incorporated these dots was a drawing in 1939 at age 10, in which the image of a Japanese woman in a kimono, presumed to be the artist's mother, is covered and obliterated by spots. Her first series of large-scale, sometimes more than 30 ft-long canvas paintings, Infinity Nets, were entirely covered in a sequence of nets and dots that alluded to hallucinatory visions. In the early 1960s Kusama began to cover items such as ladders, shoes and chairs with white phallic protrusions. Despite the micromanaged intricacy of the drawings, she turned them out fast and in bulk, establishing a rhythm of productivity she still maintains. She established other habits too, like having herself routinely photographed with new work.
Since 1963, Kusama has continued her series of Mirror/Infinity rooms. In these complex installations, purpose-built rooms lined with mirrored glass contain scores of neon coloured balls, hanging at various heights above the viewer. Standing inside on a small platform, light is repeatedly reflected off the mirrored surfaces to create the illusion of a never-ending space.
After living in Tokyo and France, Kusama left Japan at the age of 27 for the United States. In 1957 she moved to Seattle, where she had an exhibition of paintings at the Zoe Dusanne Gallery. She stayed there for a year before moving on to New York City, following correspondence with Georgia O'Keeffe in which she professed an interest in joining the limelight of the city, and sought O'Keefe's advice. During her time in the U.S., she quickly established her reputation as a leader in the avant-garde movement. In 1961 she moved her studio into the same building as Donald Judd and sculptor Eva Hesse; Hesse became a close friend. During the following years, she was enormously productive, and by 1966, she was experimenting with room-size, freestanding installations that incorporated mirrors, lights, and piped-in music. She counted Judd and Joseph Cornell among her friends and supporters. However, she did not profit financially from her work. Around this time, Kusama was hospitalized regularly from overwork, and O'Keeffe convinced her own dealer Edith Herbert to purchase several works in order to help Kusama stave off financial hardship.
Kusama organized outlandish happenings in conspicuous spots like Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge, often involving nudity and designed to protest the Vietnam War. In one, she wrote an open letter to Richard Nixon offering to have vigorous sex with him if he would stop the Vietnam war. Between 1967 and 1969 she concentrated on performances held with the maximum publicity, usually involving Kusama painting polka dots on her naked performers, as in the Grand Orgy to Awaken the Dead at the MOMA (1969), which took place at the Sculpture Garden of the Museum of Modern Art. In 1968, Kusama presided over the happening Homosexual Wedding at the Church of Self-obliteration in 33 Walker Street in New York, and performed alongside Fleetwood Mac and Country Joe and the Fish at the Fillmore East, New York City. She opened naked painting studios and a gay social club called the Kusama 'Omophile Kompany (kok).
In 1966, Kusama first participated in the 33rd Venice Biennale. Her Narcissus Garden comprised hundreds of mirrored spheres outdoors in what she called a "kinetic carpet". As soon as the piece was installed on a lawn outside the Italian pavilion, Kusama, dressed in a golden kimono, began selling each individual sphere for 1,200 lire (US$2), until the Biennale organisers put an end to her enterprise. Perhaps one of Kusama's most notorious works, Narcissus Garden was as much about the promotion of the artist through the media as it was an opportunity to offer a critique of the mechanisation and commodification of the art market. Various versions of Narcissus Garden have been presented worldwide venues including Le Consortium, Dijon, 2000; Kunstverein Braunschweig, 2003; as part of the Whitney Biennial in Central Park, New York in 2004; and at the Jardin de Tuileries in Paris, 2010.
During her time in New York, Kusama had a decade-long sexless relationship with the American artist Joseph Cornell, Kusama's only recorded romantic attachment to date.
In 1973, Kusama returned to Japan in ill health, where she began writing shockingly visceral and surrealistic novels, short stories, and poetry. Kusama checked herself into the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill and eventually took up permanent residence. She has been living at the hospital since, by choice. Her studio, where she has continued to produce work since the mid-1970s, is a short distance from the hospital in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Kusama is often quoted as saying: "If it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago." She continued to paint, but now in high-colored acrylics on canvas, on an amped-up scale.
Yayoi Kusama said about her 1954 painting titled Flower (D.S.P.S),
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. As I realized it was actually happening and not just in my imagination, I was frightened. I knew I had to run away lest I should be deprived of my life by the spell of the red flowers. I ran desperately up the stairs. The steps below me began to fall apart and I fell down the stairs straining my ankle.
Another quotation of hers:
a polka-dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life, and also the form of the moon, which is calm. Round, soft, colorful, senseless and unknowing. Polka-dots become movement ... Polka dots are a way to infinity.
Her organically abstract paintings of one or two colors (the Infinity Nets series), which she began upon arriving in New York, garnered comparisons to the work of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Barnett Newman. When she left New York she was practically forgotten as an artist until the late 1980s and 1990s, when a number of retrospectives revived international interest. Following the success of the Japanese pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1993, a dazzling mirrored room filled with small pumpkin sculptures in which she resided in color-coordinated magician's attire, Kusama went on to produce a huge, yellow pumpkin sculpture covered with an optical pattern of black spots. The pumpkin came to represent for her a kind of alter-ego or self-portrait. Kusama's later installation I'm Here, but Nothing (2000–2008) is a simply furnished room consisting of table and chairs, place settings and bottles, armchairs and rugs, however its walls are tattooed with hundreds of fluorescent polka dots glowing in the UV light. The result is an endless infinite space where the self and everything in the room is obliterated. The multi-part floating work Guidepost to the New Space, a series of rounded "humps" in fire-engine red with white polka dots, was displayed in Pandanus Lake.
In 1977, Kusama published a book of poems and paintings entitled 7. One year later, her first novel Manhattan Suicide Addict appeared. Between 1983 and 1990, she finished the novels The Hustler's Grotto of Christopher Street (1983), The Burning of St Mark's Church (1985), Between Heaven and Earth (1988), Woodstock Phallus Cutter (1988), Aching Chandelier (1989), Double Suicide at Sakuragazuka (1989), and Angels in Cape Cod (1990), alongside several issues of the magazine S&M Sniper in collaboration with photographer Nobuyoshi Araki.
In 1968, the film Kusama's Self-Obliteration which Kusama produced and starred in won a prize at the Fourth International Experimental Film Competition in Belgium and the Second Maryland Film Festival and the second prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival. In 1991, Kusama starred in the film Tokyo Decadence, written and directed by Ryu Murakami, and in 1993, she collaborated with British musician Peter Gabriel on an installation in Yokohama.
In 1968, Kusama established Kusama Fashion Company Ltd., and began selling avantgarde fashion in the "Kusama Corner" at Bloomingdales. In 2009, Kusama designed a handbag-shaped cell phone entitled Handbag for Space Travel, My Doggie Ring-Ring, a pink dotted phone in accompanying dog-shaped holder, and a red and white dotted phone inside a mirrored, dotted box dubbed Dots Obsession, Full Happiness With Dots, for Japanese mobile communication giant KDDI Corporation's "iida" brand. Each phone was limited to 1000 pieces. In 2011, Kusama created artwork for six limited-edition lipglosses from Lancôme. That same year, she worked with Marc Jacobs (who visited her studio in Japan in 2006) on a line of Louis Vuitton products, including leather goods, ready-to-wear, accessories, shoes, watches, and jewelry.
To date, Kusama has completed several major outdoor sculptural commissions, mostly in the form of brightly hued monstrous plants and flowers, for public and private institutions including Pumpkin (1994) for the Fukuoka Municipal Museum of Art; The Visionary Flowers (2002) for the Matsumoto City Museum of Art; Tsumari in Bloom (2003) for Matsudai Station, Niigata; Tulipes de Shangri-La (2003) for Euralille in Lille, France; Pumpkin (2006) at Bunka-mura on Benesse Island of Naoshima; Hello, Anyang with Love (2007) for Pyeonghwa Park, Anyang; and The Hymn of Life: Tulips (2007) for the Beverly Gardens Park in Los Angeles. In 1998, she realized a mural for the hallway of the Gare do Oriente subway station in Lisbon. Alongside these monumental works, she has produced smaller scale outdoor pieces including Key-Chan and Ryu-Chan, a pair of dotted dogs. All the outdoor works are cast in highly durable fiberglass-reinforced plastic, then painted in urethane to glossy perfection.
In 2010, Kusama designed a Town Sneaker-model bus, which she titled Mizutama Ranbu (Wild Polka Dot Dance) and whose route travels through her home town of Matsumoto. In 2011, she was commissioned to design the front cover of millions of pocket London Underground maps; the result is entitled Polka Dots Festival in London (2011). Coinciding with an exhibition of the artist's work at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2012, a 120-foot reproduction of Kusama's painting Yellow Trees (1994) covered a condominium building under construction in New York's Meatpacking District. That same year, Kusama conceived her floor installation Thousands of Eyes as a commission for the new Queen Elizabeth II Courts of Law, Brisbane.
In 1959, Kusama had her first solo exhibition in New York at the Brata Gallery, an artist's co-op. She showed a series of white net paintings which were enthusiastically reviewed by Donald Judd (both Judd and Frank Stella then acquired paintings from the show). Kusama has since exhibited work with, among others, Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns. Exhibiting alongside European artists including Lucio Fontana, Pol Bury, Otto Piene, and Gunther Uecker, in 1962 she was the only female artist to take part in the widely acclaimed Nul (Zero) international group exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
She represented Japan at the Venice Biennale in 1993, and in 1998–1999 a major retrospective exhibition of her work toured the U.S. and Japan. Major exhibitions of her work include Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, Fukuoka, Japan (1987); Center for International Contemporary Arts, New York (1989); "Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama,1958–1969", LACMA, 1998 (traveling to Museum of Modern Art, New York, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis and Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo), 1998–99; Le Consortium, Dijon, 2000 (traveled to Maison de la Culture du Japon, Paris; Kunsthallen Brandts, Odense, Denmark; Les Abattoirs, Toulouse; Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna; and Artsonje Center, Seoul, 2001–2003); "KUSAMATRIX", Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 2004 (traveling to Art Park Museum of Contemporary Art, Sapporo Art Park, Hokkaido); "Eternity – Modernity", National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (touring Japan), 2004–2005; and "The Mirrored Years", Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2008 (traveling to Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, and City Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand, 2009). In August 2010, Kusama exhibited at the Aichi Triennale 2010 , Nagoya. Her works are exhibited inside the Aichi Arts Center, out of the center and Toyota car polka dot project. As of July 2011, several of Kusama's most intimate works are on display at the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid, Spain.
As part of FINA Festival 2007, Kusama created Guidepost to the New Space, a vibrant outdoor installation for Birrarung Marr beside the Yarra River in Melbourne. In 2009, the Guideposts were re-installed at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, this time displayed as floating "humps" on a lake.
An exhibition of Kusama'a work opened at the Tate Modern in London on February 9, 2012. Described as 'akin to being suspended in a beautiful cosmos gazing at infinite worlds, or like a tiny dot of fluoresecent plankton in an ocean of glowing microscopic life', the exhibition features work from Kusama's entire career.
From July 15, 2013 to November 3, 2013, hundreds of her works including dozens of her latest pieces will be exhibited at the Daegu Art Museum, Daegu, Korea. From June 30, 2013 to September 16, 2013, several pieces are being exhibited at the MALBA, the Latinamerican Art Museum of Buenos Aires, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Kusama's work is in the collections of leading museums throughout the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix; Tate Modern, London; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Centre Pompidou, Paris; and the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.
Kusama has received numerous awards, including the Asahi Prize (2001); Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2003); and the National Lifetime Achievement Awards, the Order of the Rising Sun (2006). In October 2006, Yayoi Kusama became the first Japanese woman to receive the Praemium Imperiale, one of Japan's most prestigious prizes for internationally recognized artists.
Kusama's work has performed strongly at auction: top prices for her work are for paintings from the late 1950s and early 1960s. As of 2012, her work has the highest turnover of any living woman artist. In November 2008, Christie's New York sold a 1959 white "Infinity Net" painting formerly owned by Donald Judd, No. 2, for US$5.1 million, then a record for a living female artist. In comparison, the highest price for a sculpture from her New York years is £72,500 (US$147,687), fetched by the 1965 wool, pasta, paint and hanger assemblage Golden Macaroni Jacket at Sotheby's London in October 2007. A 2006 acrylic on fiberglass-reinforced plastic pumpkin earned $264,000, the top price for one of her sculptures, also at Sotheby's in 2007
In the 1960s, Beatrice Perry's Gres Gallery played an important role in establishing Kusama's career in the United States. Ota Fine Arts, Kusama's longtime Tokyo dealer, has worked with the artist since the 1980s. Since 2007, Kusama is also represented by Victoria Miro Gallery and David Zwirner. Kusama left Gagosian Gallery in late 2012; before moving to Gagosian, she had been with Robert Miller Gallery, New York. Her 'Flame of Life - Dedicated to Tu-Fu (Du-Fu)' sold for US$960,000 at Art Basel/Hong Kong in May 2013, the highest price paid at the show.
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