A light on seven decades of professional life of the world’s best-selling living female artist
Yayoi Kusama is the world’s best-selling living female artist who is still painting at the age of 93 in the mental health hospital where she has been living voluntarily since 1970s. Some of her latest artworks are on display alongside her early paintings from 1945 in a new exhibition at Hong Kong’s M+ Museum. There are more than 200 artworks in this collection and it is considered the largest Asian exhibition of hers abroad.
This Japanese artist is well-known for her pumpkin sculptures and dot paintings, which can fetch millions of dollars at auctions. The most photogenic parts of her work, including the immersive installations of “Room of Infinite Mirrors” which sells tickets in museums around the world, have gained attention in the age of social media.
But according to the exhibition curator, Dorion Chong, Kusama is much more than her pumpkin sculptures and polka-dot patterns. She is a deeply philosophical and innovative person who has revealed much about herself, her vulnerability and struggles as a source of inspiration for her art.
Chronologically and thematically, the show explores concepts that Kusama has revisited in various media throughout her career. For example, the concept of infinity appears in the form of repeating patterns, inspired by hallucinations she experienced as a child, when she saw everything around her was repeating in seemingly endless patterns.
Visitors will understand how these forms have evolved in the exhibition. The show starts with a room full of “Infinity Grid” paintings, including one created in 1957 after she first viewed the Pacific Ocean from an airplane window.
Between 1966 and 1974, these grids appeared again in a form that they faded in themselves. This period is after Kusama established herself in the male-dominated art world of New York despite the discrimination she faced as a woman and as a Japanese. At that time, she believed male artists like Andy Warhol were copying her ideas.
The motif later reappeared in bold, vibrant effect, filling the surface of amoeboid-like forms in Selected Works in My Eternal Soul, a series of hundreds acrylic paintings she started in 2009 and finished last year. In this exhibition, the colorful artworks “Life Force” come immediately after artwork entitled “Death”, a contrast referring to both ambiguity of Kusama’s work and underlying inner struggles.
“Today we’re used to talk about mental health challenges, but she started doing so about 60 to 70 years ago” says the curator. This issue runs throughout her life and career, but never stays in one dark spot. Kusama has always proved to rebuild her willingness to live by talking about death, suicidal thoughts and illness.
Another part of the exhibition presents not very well-known parts of the artist’s career, dating back to the middle of her career, when she returned to Japan desperately. Among them, there is a black and white fabric sculpture called “Death of a Nerve”, which was made in 1976.
The 2022 version of this artwork is created for M+ and renamed to “Death of Nerves” is also on display. This artwork is presented in a larger and more colorful scale and unlike the original version; it has a sense of flexibility and even optimism. A poem also accompanies this artwork in which the artist acknowledges that after attempting suicide her nerves were left dead and crushed. However, after a while, a universal love flowed throughout her body. It’s an unusual piece of art for Kusama, because people know her for pumpkins or mirror rooms and pop forms, but it’s a very soft sculpture that she’s been working on it for years.
Kusama remains empowered through art and is determined to tell her story. A collection of eleven paintings the artist started in 2021, called “I pray for love every day”, is displayed in this collection. Kusama has always said “love forever”. She wants people to be in peace and care for each other.
“I paint every day, I will continue to build a world in the form of life that embraces all messages of love, peace and the universe.” Kusama recently said in a short interview with CNN about her commitment to art.
The curator of this exhibition says: “Kusama is a living proof that art is indeed a cure and has a powerful healing power. And that’s an important lesson, especially for us in post-pandemic era.”
Source: Art Online