The Second Golden Age of Yayoi Kusama, by Akira Tatehata

Yayoi Kusama stands at the pinnacle of her career as an artist. The path her career has taken has been anything but plain sailing; rather it has been a continuous struggle, the severity of which shows no signs of relenting. She has battled with psychological illness since childhood, been misunderstood and antagonised by prejudice, yet she has forged ahead heroically on her chosen path. Having known her throughout these years, I have come to think that her journey, which has been fraught with difficulty, is what gave birth to her great philosophy as an artist; salvation of the world by love.

I cannot help but feel great reverence for how sincerely this singular genius wishes for salvation by love.

Kusama’s work deeply inspires everyone as it conveys its message of ‘Love Forever’ – a sincere message in an era rampant with ideologies of intolerance. The profound poetry in her work, the trembling functionality, the spirit of childlike innocence, the endearing humour that, at times, overflows…

 

Looking at such a fertile oeuvre, I cannot help but feel great reverence for how sincerely this singular genius wishes for salvation by love.

 

 

This heartfelt message of love relates deeply to her unique obsession, one which has been inescapable since childhood. Since that time, Kusama has been assailed by hallucinations of flower patterns covering her entire surrounding space, and herself being obliterated and disappearing. Patterns such as nets and dots also appear as early as her primary school drawings; this must have been her instinctive art therapy, trying to free herself from her psychological burden by painting the images that frightened her.

Her true greatness is revealed in the sublimation of her wish for salvation, both for herself and the world.

In one way her large canvases with numerous ‘simple yet complex’ nets from her time in New York, from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, stem from a childhood agoraphobic obsession. But Kusama did not shut herself off. As shown in her ‘all-over’ canvases, she propelled herself dialectically at this turning point in the New York School, which embraced a move from dynamic action painting to a more stoic Minimalism.

 

 

Kusama’s method of working stems undoubtedly from a need to free herself from psychological pressure; her true greatness is revealed in the sublimation of her wish for salvation, both for herself and the world.

 

As evident in the anti-war happenings staged in New York, no matter how much Kusama can be seen standing alone, she is not an outsider cutting herself off from society; she is, instead, ‘everyone’s avant-gardist’ who has never stopped holding up the message of love.

One could almost say it is a mystical process, as her hands move in no arbitrary fashion, melding necessity with cosmic providence.

This new exhibition is testament to her incredible vigour, her powers of concentration and energetic application – truly we are witnessing Kusama’s second golden age. While she continues to paint her monochrome ‘dots obsession’ work, the characteristics of her recent works are as follows; compositions do not necessarily reveal ‘all-overness’; her bold chromatic sense, evident in her My Eternal Soul series of paintings, amply demonstrates Kusama’s transcendental skill as a colourist; a new Pop sensitivity of her own is arising from the unification of drawing and a tableau methodology.

 

 

Watching Kusama at work in her studio, I am sometimes totally taken aback. There is absolutely no trial and error; she completes each work decisively without hesitation, without any need for prior study or rough sketching. One could almost say it is a mystical process, as her hands move in no arbitrary fashion, melding necessity with cosmic providence.

We can find Shangri-La garden-like fantasies and the diabolical textures of fleshy insectivorous flowers coexisting in her enormous floral sculpture.

I once saw her interviewed on television. Standing before a new canvas she was asked, ‘What are you going to paint?’ Her answer was, ‘You should ask my hands.’

 

This response might make one assume that she employs Surrealist automatism, but Kusama isn’t expressing a simple trust in chance while creating. Most certainly, her work has no prior conception, but she clearly envisions that moment her brush touches the canvas. There is no stagnation or hesitation in her paintbrush. One cannot help but think that ‘the muse has descended’ when viewing the spectacle of new, unexpected images that she generates.

 

 

Kusama’s new work draws together a world of charming and humorous images with an otherworldly spirituality. Alternatively, one could even say she has indivisibly melded a cosmological vision of turbulent solemnity with very personal images of great intimacy. This duality is especially evident in her sculptural work; we can find Shangri-La garden-like fantasies and the diabolical textures of fleshy insectivorous flowers coexisting in her enormous floral sculpture series.

 

 

Kusama herself has said that maleficence is her enemy as well as her comrade-in-arms, and without doubt, standing in the abyss of genius creativity is something that defies simple explanation. This world of Kusama – one of great love yet great turbulence – will continue to draw us in. 

 

Akira Tatehata is a distinguished poet, critic and curator. His longstanding association with the work of Yayoi Kusama includes his curation of the Japanese Pavilion at the 45th Venice Biennale in 1993, when Kusama represented Japan. He is Director of the Yayoi Kusama Museum, Tokyo.

This text was originally published to accompany the ambitious presentation of forty-one works created by Yayoi Kusama for her 2018 Victoria Miro exhibition THE MOVING MOMENT WHEN I WENT TO THE UNIVERSE.

 

The exhibition, which took place across the Wharf Road galleries and waterside garden, featured new paintings, including works from the iconic My Eternal Soul series, painted bronze pumpkin and flower sculptures, and a large-scale Infinity Mirrored Room, created for this presentation, Kusama’s twelfth exhibition at the gallery. 

 

About Yayoi Kusama

 

Over the course of her distinguished career, Yayoi Kusama has developed a practice, which, though it shares affiliations with Surrealism, Minimalism, Pop art, Eccentric Abstraction, the Zero and Nul movements, resists any singular classification. Born in Matsumoto City, Japan in 1929, she studied painting in Kyoto before moving to New York in the late 1950s, and by the mid-1960s had become well known in the avant-garde world for her provocative happenings and exhibitions. Since this time, Kusama's extraordinary artistic endeavours have spanned painting, drawing, collage, sculpture, performance, film, printmaking, installation and environmental art as well as literature, fashion (most notably in her 2012 collaboration with Louis Vuitton) and product design.

 

Over the past decade there have been museum exhibitions of Kusama’s work touring the world in North America, Japan, Korea, Singapore, China, Australia, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Spain, England, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. In 2016, Kusama received the Order of Culture, one of the highest honours bestowed by the Imperial Family. Kusama is the first woman to be honoured with the prestigious medal for drawings and sculptures. In 2021, the New York Botanical Garden will host an exhibition inspired by Kusama’s lifelong engagement with nature and fascination with the natural world. Among additional major exhibitions in 2021 is Kusama’s first large-scale retrospective in Germany, which takes place at the Gropius Bau in Berlin.

 

Read more

Images from top:

 

THE MOVING MOMENT WHEN I WENT TO THE UNIVERSE (detail), 2017

THE MOVING MOMENT WHEN I WENT TO THE UNIVERSE, 2017

 I SPOKE ALL ABOUT PEACE (detail), 2017

I SPOKE ALL ABOUT PEACE, 2017

THE WOMEN SHOUTED OUT TO THE UNIVERSE (detail), 2018

THE WOMEN SHOUTED OUT TO THE UNIVERSE, 2018

Installation view, THE MOVING MOMENT WHEN I WENT TO THE UNIVERSE, Victoria Miro, 3 October–21 December 2018

FLOWERS THAT SPEAK ALL ABOUT MY HEART GIVEN TO THE SKY, 2018

Installation view, THE MOVING MOMENT WHEN I WENT TO THE UNIVERSE, Victoria Miro, 3 October–21 December 2018

FLOWERS THAT SPEAK ALL ABOUT MY HEART GIVEN TO THE SKY, 2018

INFINITY MIRRORED ROOM – MY HEART IS DANCING INTO THE UNIVERSE (detail), 2018 

Portrait of Yayoi Kusama

 

All works © YAYOI KUSAMA

Courtesy the artist, Ota Fine Arts and Victoria Miro

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