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Yayoi Kusama

Japanese cultural icon and artistic visionary

Contemporary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama creates work in a variety of media, including painting, sculpture, video, and installation. Her use of recurring dots, pumpkins, and mirrors has resulted in a body of work that is formally cohesive. “With just one polka dot, nothing can be achieved. In the universe, there is the sun, the moon, the earth, and hundreds of millions of stars,” the artist has mused. “Pursuing the philosophy of the universe through art under such circumstances has led me to what I call stereotypical repetition.”

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Contemporary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama creates work in a variety of media, including painting, sculpture, video, and installation. Her use of recurring dots, pumpkins, and mirrors has resulted in a body of work that is formally cohesive. “With just one polka dot, nothing can be achieved. In the universe, there is the sun, the moon, the earth, and hundreds of millions of stars,” the artist has mused. “Pursuing the philosophy of the universe through art under such circumstances has led me to what I call stereotypical repetition.”

Artworks

Biography

Yayoi Kusama's immersive "Infinity Mirror Rooms" and an aesthetic that celebrates light, polka dots, and pumpkins captivate audiences worldwide. The avant-garde artist originally gained notoriety in 1960s New York, where she staged controversial Happenings and displayed hallucinating paintings of loops and dots dubbed "Infinity Nets." Kusama also had an impact on Andy Warhol and foreshadowed the growth of feminist and Pop art. She has had important shows at the Museum of Modern Art, Centre Pompidou, Tate Modern, and Tokyo's National Museum of Modern Art.

  • Beginnings

    She was born on March 22nd, 1929, in Matsumoto City, Japan. Before relocating to New York in 1958, she studied painting in Kyoto. Kusama distinguished herself as a distinctive artist in the company of Claes Oldenburg and Andy Warhol by creating installations like the Infinity Mirror Room and paintings based on childhood hallucinations (1965). Her return to Japan in the 1970s was prompted by mental health difficulties notwithstanding her early success. Over the ensuing decades, Kusama lived in relegated obscurity; it wasn't until she represented her nation at the 1993 Venice Biennale that she came back into the public eye.

  • Early Works

    Kusama rose to prominence as an artist in Japan before moving to the United States, where she held her first solo exhibition in 1952. Her earliest commercial works in New York were watercolours, such as The Woman (1953), which highlighted her shift toward American aesthetic influences such as abstraction. The piece displays a biomorphic form with dots that would come to define the artist's oeuvre.

    By 1956, however, Kusama's painting had progressed from simply gouache, watercolours, and oils on paper to painting polka dots directly onto household surfaces such as room walls and floors. This is also when we see her start painting directly upon naked helpers, which would become a distinctive characteristic of her performance works over the next decade.

  • Most Famous Works

    In terms of painting, Kusama quickly established herself as a fixture of the New York Avant Garde with her Infinity Net series, which she began shortly after moving to the city. The incessantly repeated markings that define these paintings are considered a forerunner to the minimalist movement, and her work was shown alongside prominent names like Donald Judd, Andy Warhol, and Clas Oldenburg in the 1960s.

  • Style & Technique

    Kusama's now-famous style was not the result of her early artistic training. She was trained in the traditional Japanese style of Nihonga, but after becoming dissatisfied with its particularly Japanese aesthetic, she moved to the United States and turned to abstraction and minimalism. During this transfer, she also destroyed the majority of her early artworks.

    Her soft sculptures of the 60s earned her the moniker "Eccentric Abstraction", and works like Sex Obsession Food Obsession Macaroni Infinity Nets Kusama (1962), in which Kusama inserts herself into her own installations, solidified the artist's association with the Feminist movement.

  • Success

    In the 1980s, she gained a new audience for her work as a result of a number of worldwide solo and group exhibitions, including presentations at New York's MoMA and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, as well as the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art in 1989. Kusama also represented Japan at the Venice Biennale in 1993, and has had a constant series of globally successful shows of more modern sculptures since the 1990s. The black and yellow pumpkin pattern, combined with the polkadots, has notably persisted, and renowned designers such as Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton have collaborated with Kusama in the twenty-first century.

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