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D E S I G N
Y U

B Y

X I N N I

1 / SEPT 2016 / ISSUU 08

YAYOI-KUSAMA
Yayoi Kusama ( born March 22, 1929) is a Japanese artist and
writer. Throughout her career she has worked in a wide variety of
media, including painting, collage, soft sculpture, performance
art
A precursor of the pop art, minimalist and feminist art movements, Kusama influenced her contemporaries such as Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and George Segal and exhibited works alongside the likes
of them.[1]
In 1957 she moved to the United States, settling down in New York City where she produced a series of
paintings influenced by the abstract expressionist movement. Switching to sculpture and installation as
her primary media, Kusama became a fixture of the New York avant-garde during the early 1960s where
she became associated with the pop art movement. Embracing the rise of the hippie counterculture of
the late 1960s, Kusama came to public attention when she organized a series of happenings in which
naked participants were painted with brightly colored polka dots. Although largely forgotten after departing the New York art scene in the early 1970s, Kusama is now acknowledged as one of the most
important living artists to come out of Japan, and an important voice of the avant-garde.
Kusama’s 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. Kusama is also a published novelist and poet, and has created notable work in film
and fashion design. Major retrospectives of her work have been held at the Museum of Modern Art in
1998, the Whitney Museum in 2012, and Tate Modern in 2012.[2][3][4] In 2006, she received a Women’s
Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award.[5] In 2008, Christie’s New York sold a work by her for $5.1
million, then a record for a living female artist.[6] In 2015 Artsy named her one of the Top 10 Living Artists
of 2015.

ISSUU 08 / SEPT 2016 / 2

3 / SEPT 2016 / ISSUU 08

ART MARKET
Writter : Rianti Maya // 2 Jully 2016

In the 1960s, Beatrice Perry’s Gres Gallery played an important role in establishing
Kusama’s career in the United States. Ota Fine Arts, Kusama’s longtime Tokyo dealer,
has worked with the artist since the 1980s.

K
K

usama left Gagosian Gallery in late 2012;
before moving to Gagosian, she had been
with Robert Miller Gallery, New York.[53]
[54] Kusama has been represented by Victoria Miro Gallery since the early 2000s, and
joined David Zwirner in 2013. The artist is currently
represented by David Zwirner, Ota Fine Arts, and Victoria Miro Gallery.
usama’s work has performed strongly at auction: top prices for her work are for paintings
from the late 1950s and early 1960s. As of
2012, her work has the highest turnover of
any living woman artist.[55] In November
2008, Christie’s New York sold a 1959 white “Infinity
Net” painting formerly owned by Donald Judd,[10] No.
2, for US$5.1 million, then a record for a living female
artist.[56] In comparison, the highest price for a sculpture from her New York years is £72,500 (US$147,687),
fetched by the 1965 wool, pasta, paint and hanger assemblage Golden Macaroni Jacket at Sotheby’s London in October 2007. A 2006 acrylic on fiberglass-reinforced plastic pumpkin earned $264,000, the top price
for one of her sculptures, also at Sotheby’s in 2007[57]

ISSUU 08 / SEPT 2016 / 4

Her ‘Flame of Life - Dedicated to Tu-Fu (Du-Fu)’ sold for
US$960,000 at Art Basel/Hong Kong in May 2013, the
highest price paid at the show. Kusama became the
most expensive living female artist at auction when
White No. 28 (1960) from her signature “Infinity Nets”
series sold for $7.1 million at a 2014 Christie’s auction,
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Duis euismod semper sapien ac laoreet.

5 / SEPT 2016 / ISSUU 08

CAREER
Early success in Japan: 1950–1956

B

y 1950, Kusama was depicting abstracted natural forms in watercolor, gouache and oil, primarily on paper. She began covering
surfaces (walls, floors, canvases, and later, household objects and
naked assistants) with the polka dots that would become a trademark of her work.
Kusama on polka dots:
a polka-dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of the energy
of the whole world and our living life, and also the form of the moon,
which is calm. Round, soft, colorful, senseless and unknowing. Polka-dots become movement ... Polka dots are a way to infinity.[11]
The vast fields of polka dots, or “infinity nets,” as she called them,
were taken directly from her hallucinations. The earliest recorded
work in which she incorporated these dots was a drawing in 1939
at age 10, in which the image of a Japanese woman in a kimono,
presumed to be the artist’s mother, is covered and obliterated by
spots.[12] Her first series of large-scale, sometimes more than 30 ftlong canvas paintings,[13] Infinity Nets, were entirely covered in a
sequence of nets and dots that alluded to hallucinatory visions.
Yayoi Kusama said about her 1954 painting titled Flower (D.S.P.S),
One day I was looking at the red flower patterns of the tablecloth on
a table, and when I looked up I saw the same pattern covering the
ceiling, the windows and the walls, and finally all over the room, my
body and the universe. I felt as if I had begun to self-obliterate, to
revolve in the infinity of endless time and the absoluteness of space,
and be reduced to nothingness. As I realized it was actually happening and not just in my imagination, I was frightened. I knew I had to
run away lest I should be deprived of my life by the spell of the red
flowers. I ran desperately up the stairs. The steps below me began to
fall apart and I fell down the stairs straining my ankle.

Yayoi Kusama
ISSUU 08 / SEPT 2016 / 6

New York City: 1957–1972
After living in Tokyo and France, Kusama left
Japan at the age of 27 for the United States.
In 1957 she moved to Seattle, where she had
an exhibition of paintings at the Zoe Dusanne
Gallery.[15] She stayed there for a year[16]
before moving on to New York City, following correspondence with Georgia O’Keeffe in
which she professed an interest in joining the
limelight of the city, and sought O’Keeffe’s advice.[17] During her time in the U.S., she quickly established her reputation as a leader in the
avant-garde movement. In 1961 she moved
her studio into the same building as Donald
Judd and sculptor Eva Hesse; Hesse became a
close friend.[18] In the early 1960s Kusama began to cover items such as ladders, shoes and
chairs with white phallic protrusions.[19] Despite the micromanaged intricacy of the drawings, she turned them out fast and in bulk,
establishing a rhythm of productivity she still
maintains. She established other habits too,
like having herself routinely photographed
with new work.[16]
Since 1963, Kusama has continued her series of Mirror/Infinity rooms. In these complex installations, purpose-built rooms lined
with mirrored glass contain scores of neon
coloured balls, hanging at various heights
above the viewer. Standing inside on a small
platform, light is repeatedly reflected off the
mirrored surfaces to create the illusion of a
never-ending space.[20] During the following
years, she was enormously productive, and
by 1966, she was experimenting with roomsize, freestanding installations that incorporated mirrors, lights, and piped-in music. She
counted Judd and Joseph Cornell among her
friends and supporters. However, she did not
profit financially from her work.Around this
time, Kusama was hospitalized regularly from
overwork。

Yayoi
Kusa7 / SEPT 2016 / ISSUU 08

Return to Japan:
1973—1977
In 1973, Kusama returned to
Japan in ill health, where she
began writing shockingly visceral and surrealistic novels,
short stories, and poetry. She
became an art dealer, but her
business folded after several
years and in 1977 Kusama
checked herself into the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally
Ill where she eventually took
up permanent residence.
She has been living at the
hospital since, by choice.
[23] Her studio, where she
has continued to produce
work since the mid-1970s,
is a short distance from the
hospital in Shinjuku, Tokyo.
[24] Kusama is often quoted
as saying: “If it were not
for art, I would have killed
myself a long time ago.”[25]
From here, she has continued to produce artworks in
a variety of media, as well as
launching a literary career by
publishing several novels, a
poetry collection, and an autobiography.[9] Her painting
style shifted to high-colored
acrylics on canvas, on an
amped-up scale

Revival: 1980s–present
Her organically abstract
paintings of one or two colors (the Infinity Nets series),
which she began upon arriving in New York, garnered
comparisons to the work of
Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Barnett Newman.
When she left New York she
was practically forgotten as
an artist until the late 1980s
and 1990s, when a number
of retrospectives revived
international interest
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

WORKS
Performance

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 that
her white American audience categorizes her in by showing the absurdity
of cultural categorizing people in the
world’s largest melting pot.[33]

Film

In 1968, the film Kusama’s Self-Obliteration which Kusama produced and
starred in won a prize at the Fourth
International Experimental Film Competition in Belgium and the Second
Maryland Film Festival and the second
prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival. In
1991, Kusama starred in the film Tokyo
Decadence, written and directed by Ryu
Murakami, and in 1993, she collaborated with British musician Peter Gabriel
on an installation in Yokohama.[10]

Fashion

In 1968, Kusama established Kusama
Fashion Company Ltd., and began selling avantgarde fashion in the “Kusama
Corner” at Bloomingdales.[34] In 2009,
Kusama designed a handbag-shaped
cell phone entitled Handbag for Space
Travel, My Doggie Ring-Ring, a pink
dotted phone in accompanying dogshaped holder, and a red and white
dotted phone inside a mirrored, dotted
box dubbed Dots Obsession, Full Happiness With Dots, for Japanese mobile
communication giant KDDI Corporation’s “iida” brand.[35] Each phone was
limited to 1000 pieces. In 2011, Kusama
created artwork for six limited-edition
lipglosses from Lancôme.[36] That same
year, she worked with Marc Jacobs (who
visited her studio in Japan in 2006) on a
line of Louis Vuitton products, including
leather goods, ready-to-wear, accessories, shoes, watches, and jewelry.

Writing

In 1977, Kusama published a book of
poems and paintings entitled 7. One
year later, her first novel Manhattan
Suicide Addict appeared. Between
1983 and 1990, she finished the novels The Hustler’s Grotto of Christopher
Street (1983), The Burning of St Mark’s
Church (1985), Between Heaven and
Earth (1988), Woodstock Phallus Cutter
(1988), Aching Chandelier (1989), Double Suicide at Sakuragazuka (1989), and
Angels in Cape Cod (1990), alongside
several issues of the magazine S&M
Sniper in collaboration with photographer Nobuyoshi Araki

Red Pumpkin (2006), Naoshima

ISSUU 08 / SEPT 2016 / 8

9 / SEPT 2016 / ISSUU 08


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