Art@Site Yayoi Kusama On a Swing

Yayoi Kusama


On a Swing

Roppongi, Minato-ku
Yayoi Kusama (?? ?? Kusama Yayoi, born 22 March 1929) is a Japanese contemporary artist who works primarily in sculpture and installation, but is also active in painting, performance, film, fashion, poetry, fiction, and other arts. Her work is based in conceptual art and shows some attributes of feminism, minimalism, surrealism, Art Brut, pop art, and abstract expressionism, and is infused with autobiographical, psychological, and sexual content. She has been acknowledged as one of the most important living artists to come out of Japan.
Raised in Matsumoto, Kusama trained at the Kyoto School of Arts and Crafts in a traditional Japanese painting style called nihonga. Kusama was inspired, however, by American Abstract Impressionism. She moved to New York City in 1958 and was a part of the New York avant-garde scene throughout the 1960s, especially in the pop-art movement. Embracing the rise of the hippie counterculture of the late 1960s, she came to public attention when she organized a series of happenings in which naked participants were painted with brightly colored polka dots. Since the 1970s, Kusama has continued to create art, most notably installations in various museums around the world.
Following the success of the Japanese pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1993, a dazzling mirrored room filled with small pumpkin sculptures in which she resided in color-coordinated magician's attire, Kusama went on to produce a huge, yellow pumpkin sculpture covered with an optical pattern of black spots. The pumpkin came to represent for her a kind of alter-ego or self-portrait Kusama's later installation I'm Here, but Nothing (2000–2008) is a simply furnished room consisting of table and chairs, place settings and bottles, armchairs and rugs, however its walls are tattooed with hundreds of fluorescent polka dots glowing in the UV light. The result is an endless infinite space where the self and everything in the room is obliterated.
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 in which her white American audience categorizes her, by showing the absurdity of culturally categorizing people in the world’s largest melting pot.
Polka Dots Garden with over life sized Yayoi Kusama balloon swinging over people having beer and cocktails. Doesn't get any more absurd than this.
Hirst’s interview – conducted for the catalogue to accompany Now, an exhibition of Kusama’s work at the Robert Miller Gallery in New York, and republished in our updated and about to be published Yayoi Kusama monograph – demonstrates his absolute familiarity with her life and work.
Not so long ago Damien Hirst was a wild Young British Artist, known for his dotty behaviour and spot paintings. He had won the Turner Prize, co-written a top five pop single as part of the band Fat Les, and turned down the opportunity to represent Britain at the 1999 Venice Biennale. But he didn’t pass up an opportunity to converse with Yayoi Kusama.
At that time, Kusama's career was also on an upward swing, albeit one which had enjoyed a slightly more gradual trajectory. Interest in her own wild, dot-filled work - which the artist first found fame with while living in New York during the 1960s - was growing.
Some questions are bald enquires. 'Does your illness have a name?' asks Hirst (the Japanese artist had been living in a psychiatric institution since 1977). Kusama replies: ' It is obsessional neurosis. I have been suffering from this disease for more than fifty years. Painting pictures has been therapy for me to overcome the illness."