The Unstoppable Yayoi Kusama
Kusama already holds the record for the highest price paid for a work by a living female artist. At 87, with two new exhibitions, she’s busier than ever. By Darryl Wee
IT’S HARDLY TOKYO’S most inspiring area, but here in Shinjuku ward, amid a shambolic jumble of low-rise housing, is where artist Yayoi Kusama keeps her fastidiously maintained studio: an elegantly unadorned concrete building that strikes a conspicuous note in the otherwise nondescript quarter. Almost every day, she comes here to paint from 9 a.m. until sunset, often working for eight-hour stretches. On one mid-December morning, Kusama, 87, is laboring intently over a sky-blue canvas, halfway through her latest work in a series called My Eternal Souls that she began in 2009. It now includes over 500 paintings. Some 130 of these works appear in the retrospective Yayoi Kusama: My Eternal Soul, which opened recently at the National Art Center in Tokyo.
Quietly directing two of her assistants to clear the cluttered table and fetch tea and biscuits, Kusama turns to welcome me while several other staffers tap away at their computers in a small office upstairs. As active and prolific as she’s ever been during a career that spans six decades, Kusama adheres to a rigorous, somewhat ascetic routine. “I don’t usually have a fixed idea of what I want to do and don’t know how the painting will turn out. Countless ideas come into my head, and it’s not my role to decide how the final product should be,” says Kusama, wearing the fire-engine-red, bobbed wig that has become her signature and a dress emblazoned with a pink polka-dot pattern from one of her paintings. “Once I begin painting, though, the image becomes clear. And when it’s finished, I realize that this is the painting that I’ve been trying to make.”
Photo: Nobuyoshi Araki for WSJ. Magazine