Spots! Welcome to the wonderful world of Yayoi Kusama. Women artists have often been dismissed as eccentrics or second class citizens in art, airbrushed from history. Like Lousie Bourgeois (whose artists room has just opened at the Switch House, Tate Modern), Kusama’s distinctive voice and relentless drive, has produced a body of work so unique that her art is instantly recognisable. Encompassing everything from fashion, sculpture, painting, poetry and novels, and much ‘conceptual stuff’ in-between, she has created her own world, and in doing so has become one of the world’s most popular artists.
According to her biography, she has been painting spots since around the age of 10. Born in 1929, she has spent a career exploring the infinite and the cosmos using a recurring series of motifs – polka dots, pumpkins, infinity nets and mirrors. After studying Nihonga painting, a rigorous formal style developed during the Meiji period (1868–1912) to combat the growing influence of western art in Japan. She moved to New York in the late 50s and for 20 years, she was immersed in the Avant Garde art scene in the city, mixing and exhibiting with the likes of Andy Warhol, Joseph Cornell and Claes Oldenburg. Embracing her outsider status (as a woman in a male dominated art scene, a Japanese woman in a western world) she became notorious for her happenings, soft sculptures and conceptual events, and after two decades, she returned to Japan as an established international artist in her own right.
This new exhibition at the Victoria Miro Galleries (at Wharf Road and St George Street) includes new mirrored rooms created specifically for this show: All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, Chandelier of Grief and Where the Lights in My Heart Go. Siting alongside these installations are some of Kusama’s mirrored bronze pumpkins, another recurring motif in her art. I’ve passed the gallery on a numerous occasions since it opened (it is five minutes walk from our house) and the queues have often gone out the door and down the street.
‘New paintings displayed alongside these immersive rooms continue an enduring preoccupation with multiplying polka dots and dense scalloped ‘infinity net’ patterns – Kusama’s obsessive repetition of these forms on canvas, which she has described as a form of active self-obliteration, responds to hallucinations first experienced in childhood.’ Victoria Miro Press Release
The three rooms are best experienced individually, and outside each of the installations, people wait patiently while gallery attendants with stop watches time your minute experiencing infinity. You get a minute first thing in the morning, but if you’re there on a Saturday afternoon, you’ll be lucky to get twenty seconds. I am not going to try and describe the experience of each of these mirrored rooms, for once I would really encourage you to visit them yourselves if you can. I am pleased with my photos from the inside, though they struggle to capture the true immersive experience. You can see the complete set of images here.
So make the effort, get up early, expand your horizons and go and see this exhibition.