Biography

Painter, sculptor, filmmaker, and performer Yayoi Kusama (Japanese, b.1929) is a famously provocative avant-garde artist, best known for her works featuring repeating motifs and psychedelic imagery that Sculptureevoke themes of psychology, feminism, obsession, sex, creation, destruction, and intense self-reflection. Kusama was born in Matsumoto City and began painting at the age of 10, Red and Whiteas a means of escaping a childhood of neglect and expressing her early experiences with hallucinogenic visions. These apparitions consisted of dots and patterns enveloping her surroundings, suggesting issues of mental illness which have continued to strongly influence her work. Inspired by a letter she received from Georgia O’Keefe, Kusama moved to New York City in 1957 to pursue a career as an artist. Over the next decade she garnered a reputation as a controversial member of the New York avant-garde, first obsessively working on her series of Infinity Nets, paintings and sculptures featuring meticulous, seemingly endless repetitive motifs.

Over the next few years she also staged elaborate happenings throughout New York City, at one point breaking into the garden of the Museum of Modern Art to perform a happening with several naked assistants. She Room of Mirrorsexhibited her work with Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and other prominent avant-garde artists throughout the 1960s, before returning to Japan in the early 1970s and living in a mental hospital, where she wrote surreal short stories and poems. She later returned to her previous themes in painting and installation art, creating rooms full of mirrors reflecting her iconic polka dots and Infinity Nets in further meditations on repetition and obsession. After representing Japan at the Venice Biennale in 1993, Kusama’s work received newly heightened recognition from the international art world. She has been honored with the Ordre des Arts et Lettres from the French Ministry of Culture, as well as the Praemium Imperiale prize from the Japanese Art Association. In recent years she has created large public sculptures on commission, and has made several films and documentaries, the most recent released in 2008. The same year, Kusama became the best-selling living female artist, with works breaking record prices at auction. She currently lives and works in Tokyo.

Works

Writing

In 1977, Kusama published a book of poems and paintingswriting 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.

Film

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 Murakamiand in 1993, she collaborated with British musician Peter Gabriel on an installation in Yokohama.

Fashion

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,louis 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.

Performance

In Yayoi Kusama’s Walking Piece (1966), a performance that was documented in a series of eighteen color slides, Kusama walks along the streets of New York City in a traditional Japanese kimono with a parasol. The kimono suggests traditional roles for women in Japanese custom. The parasol, however, is made to look inauthentic as it is really a black umbrella painted white on the exterior and decorated with fake flowers. Kusama walks down unoccupied streets in an unknown quest. She then turns and cries without reason, and eventually walks away and vanishes from view. This performance, through the association of the kimono, involves the stereotypes that Asian American women continue to face. However, as an avant-garde artist living in New York, her situation alters the context of the dress, creating a cross-cultural amalgamation. Kusama is able to point out the stereotype that her white American audience categorizes her in by showing the absurdity of cultural categorizing people in the world’s largest melting pot.

Commissions

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.