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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