Sunday, July 22, 2012

Spotted Euphoria

When I look at Yayoi Kusama, 83 years-old, wearing neon-colored wigs and garments that camouflage into her artwork, I see a magical would-be fairy godmother who could live with me in a secret garden full of polka-dot pumpkins; and yet, she is often misunderstood. The saturated colors used in Yayoi’s work give a deceptive sugar glaze to her art, but upon closer inspection, wandering through a Yayoi Kusama exhibition is like swimming down a rainbow  river with no breaths between her inner fears and hallucinations that haunt each wall. That is to say, it’s all beautiful but extremely eerie. Just like Yayoi herself.
Although the Whitney Museum’s new exhibit on Yayoi Kusama is a retrospective, it's focused primarily on her early work, work that was taken for granted in her childhood. When Yayoi was 10 years-old in Japan she began drawing prolifically to track her hallucinations, some of which included fields of flowers attacking her.  Seeing some photographs of Yayoi and her sketchbooks on display at the Whitney was amazing.
When I first walked into the Whitney Musuem, I was greeted by floating red balloons with Yayoi’s signature polka-dots. Yayoi turns polka-dots into living, breathing creatures (the best was when she literally did make them move by sticking dot stickers all over her body and even once on a horse). 

It’s the repetition in Yayoi’s work that functions as a form of therapy for her. Although she currently resides in a psychiatric ward in Japan, everything about Yayoi, to me, is incredibly sane.  If you look at the way Yayoi paints it is extremely systematic and geometric.  
I love all of the light sculptures she did that made the dots into optical illusions like in the above photo. And even though all of her work from this time was centered (no pun intended) around polka-dots, they’re each somehow very different. The only thing I will say about the exhibit is that for someone who is known as the Princess of Polka-dots, they didn’t have many of her dotted pieces in person! They also should have had a white wall with a bucket of stickers for everyone to decorate…but that’s just me.

I want to cuddle with Yayoi Kusama

Emily and I trying to enter Planet Polka-dot

The last room was Yayoi’s most recent collection and a complete departure from the work for which she is most associated with. This series reminded me of scenes from a day-glo science magazine (that's not a thing, but it could be a thing...); hidden amongst amoeba-like shapes were different anatomical structures. 

This past year, in 11th grade art class I made a canvas (above) entitled “A Lucid Swim,” made from watercolors, inks, markers, weaving yarn, and collage, that, until seeing the exhibit, I didn't realize subconsciously has references to Yayoi Kusama.  

The Whitney Museum gift shop has some really great books about Kusama (including an auto-biography of hers called Infinity Net which I really want to read).  Emily and I took some photos of particular pages that I thought were really psychedelic. This was a really great self-portrait series of Kusama’s shown in the exhibit on a slide-projector as she wanders around New York on a sunny day in a Kimono and umbrella covered in plastic flowers.  

The Whitney Museum’s Yayoi Kusama exhibit runs from July 12th- September 30th 2012. Check out the museum website for more info here.


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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Automat

This summer I’ve also started writing for BUST Magazine. I’m super excited about it, because many times people think feminism and fashion are mutually exclusive, and BUST Magazine is one of few places that tries to bridge the gap with a witty outlook.
My inner Harriet the Spy came in handy when I was on the bus a couple of days ago, eavesdropping on a conversation between two elderly women talking about a new exhibit that opened at the New York Public Library called “Lunch Hour NYC.” After a couple of minutes of listening to the women reminisce about how cheap food used to be “back in the golden days” when they’d hangout at diners with the waitresses on roller skates, I, myself, was nostalgic for a time I will never experience. All the same I wished I could crank a time machine and go back with them. I peeked at the pamphlet in one of the women’s hands and jotted down the information for the exhibit to write for BUST (you can read the full article I ended up writing here.)
I never thought too profoundly on the concept of lunch (unless it is to wax poetic about how delicious my apple peanut butter sandwich is, or, when I was younger and ate boxed lunches, to cherish notes and drawings my dad used to hide in my packed meal). However, after venturing to the Lunch Hour NYC exhibit, I can honestly say that I can look at my favorite meal of the day with a new lens.

Somehow even food looked more exciting in the 1950’s. I love all of these retro cookbooks. 

  The exhibit, which opened on June 22nd 2012, looks back at more than a century of New York lunches and traces the socioeconomic patterns that caused the idea of lunch as we know it to take shape. The interactive exhibit takes you in chronological order, beginning with the genesis of pushcarts.  At the turn of the century, with the rise of industrialization, the lunch hour began to become more regulated, causing the need for more places to accommodate workers for a sit-down lunch.

Although the entire exhibit was magical, I was most fixated on the automat. I’ve had this postcard of an automat on 8th avenue photographed in 1938 in my possession for as long as I can remember. The automat was brought to New York in 1912 and lived on for many years after, up until 1991, when the last surviving automat closed its doors. Still, the magic has always thrived in my imagination. Although sometimes the dishes in automats were as simple as macaroni and cheese, my mom has always described the automat to me as food jewels on display behind glass windows- available for just a few cents. In the Lunch Hour NYC exhibit, they even built a replica of an automat and filled the windows with exact recipes of dishes that would have filled a real 1900s automat. As I pulled out one of the cards for pumpkin pie, an older gentleman said to me: “people used to think that there were robots at work behind the windows. Few knew that there was a whole OZ-like kitchen behind the wall. Once in awhile you’d get a slice of pie and be met with a face of someone from the kitchen and it would be this big surprise.”  Interestingly, I later learned in the exhibit that the mystery of the kitchen was often left this way to keep up the face of the company (automats often hired women and minorities to work behind the wall and wanted to keep them hidden).

The replica looks kind of ghostly without the food coloring in the boxed windows.

This was the part of the exhibit about making lunch at home. All of the vintage lunch boxes are true art pieces. If you think about it, lunchboxes are personality identifiers.


There is just so much to say about the exhibit, which is why you must see it for yourself. And while you will absolutely learn a lot about the history of New York through food, (for example, did you know that “white bread” initially became popular because it was a way to visually detect mold?) more importantly, you will get to be alongside many people who actually lived through the history.   


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