Yayoi Kusama is a true singular figure in modern art, highly original and tremendously popular. The presentation of the Kusama's life's work at Louisiana was the first Scandinavian retrospective of her art. For the museum the exhibition also turned out to be a significant Louisiana event, as 340.721 guests visited Kusama's fascinating infinity universe. Hereby the exhibition became the third most visited exhibition in Louisiana's history.
Based in Tokyo, Kusama (b. 1929) has gained world fame in recent decades for her universe of brightly colored, sprawling patterns covering the surfaces of paintings and sculptures and spreading across entire rooms. In the center of this boundless visual universe stands Kusama herself, often wearing patterned clothes that make her blend in with her art.
The exhibition was a presentation of Kusama’s works from more than six decades and featured a variety of the many artistic media in which she has worked: from visual art to performance, film, literature and design. A special feature of this exhibition was the involvement of Kusama’s work with fashion and design including the artist’s earliest, unique fashion design from the 1960s. In addition to this the exhibition displayed a selection of Kusama’s youth works from Japan, which has never been exhibited before, examples of both her earliest and newer installation works and a new series of paintings, which the 86 year old Kusama created specifically for the exhibition at Louisiana.
In 2016 the exhibition travels on to Henie Onstad Kunstcenter, Oslo, Norway, Moderna Museet/ArkDes, Stockholm, Sweden and HAM – Helsinki Art Museum, Finland. The Scandinavian tour is supported by Japan Foundation.
FROM SPROUTS TO KUSAMA’S WORLD
The exhibition unfolded Kusama’s work both chronological and thematical. The artist’s entire career is formed by recurring themes and concepts, but contains at the same time abrupt artistic breaks when she finishes something, she breaks with that specific type of artistic project and embark on new forms of expression and spatialities.
The first section, Sprouts, was dedicated to the works of her youth – the earliest drawings and sketchbooks with nature subjects, which Kusama created as a self-taught artist in the Japanese provinces. The subsequent galleries focused on the ground-breaking change in Kusama’s work in the late 1950s when she emigrated to the USA and became part of the New York avant-garde scene.
Under the theme heading Infinity a number of carefully selected works were shown from the painting series Infinity Nets, which became Kusama’s breakthrough work. In the next gallery, Accumulations, stod soft, eroticized furniture-sculptures covered in hundreds of white, penis-like shapes. Unlike the predominant currents in artistic milieux in New York, where Kusama got to know artists like Andy Warhol and Donald Judd, Kusama’s work was seductive and physical.
It was in this period that she developed the fundamental themes around which her life’s work still revolves: fantasies of infinity, dizzying psychological spaces into which one can disappear, and the desire to dissolve the ego and be swallowed up by the world.
The next space, The Priestess of the Polka Dots, unfurled through richly documented material, slide shows and rare, original design objects, the expanded practice into which Kusama progressed throughout the second half of the 1960s. She organized political protests, happenings and body-painting parties – and established her own fashion design firm, Kusama Fashion Institute, all accompanied by a constant flow of press releases that functioned as marketing, artistic manifestos and social satire. In addition, Louisiana showed major works from the period when she was one of the first artists to develop the installation genre.
At the beginning of the 1970s Kusama returned to Japan. The next section, Cosmos, highlighted the turn that Kusama’s work took through the 1980s. Now the nature motifs from the earliest period returned, but in large paintings and sculptures where the synthetic and the organic clash in wild combinations. Many of these works had never been shown outside Japan before the exhibition at Louisiana.
Mirror Room (Pumpkin)
The last section of the exhibition, Kusama’s world, focused on the idea of self-obliteration in Kusama’s contemporary work through performance videos and spatial installations. A special feature was the work Mirror Room (Pumpkin) (1991), an installation that was shown at the Venice Biennale in 1993 and helped to give Kusama the status on the global contemporary art scene that she has today. Finally, the exhibition showed works from the latest series of paintings, My Eternal Soul, on which Kusama is still working.
KUSAMA AND FASHION
A special feature of the exhibition was the involvement of Kusama’s work with fashion and design. The exhibition showed examples of Kusama’s earliest, unique fashion design from the 1960s, when she created patterned avant-garde garments and costumes with close connections to her performances and happenings. In addition, we presented the artist’s most recent design collaborations with e.g. a full-scale reproduction of a window decoration created for Louis Vuitton. Hereby Kusama inscribed herself in a wider history of avant-garde artists who through the years have taken an interest in the seductive space of the display window.