Yayoi Kusama is considered Japan’s most important and best-known living artist. You may have read our recent blog post on Kusama’s sticker installation at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, in which the artist invited thousands of children to deface a pristine white environment with multi-coloured stickers. Within this performance-based installation – and indeed throughout her entire career – an underlying obsessive force and compulsion lies at the core of her art. Kusama has lived in a mental health hospital since the early 1930s and battles with psychological instability, which manifests itself in the recurrence of repetitive and compulsive patterns in her work.
Now her work is on display in an important retrospective exhibition, Yayoi Kusama, at London’s Tate Modern (9 February – 5 June 2012). Including work spanning six decades, this exhibition covers Kusama’s moments of intense innovation, and both her early paintings from the 1940s as well as new and unseen works are on display, such as her most recent installation Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life (2011), her largest mirrored room to date.
You can see a series of large-scale immersive ‘environments’ that have hallucinatory qualities, as well as compulsive polka dot and ‘infinity net’ paintings from the 1950s.
This is a truly unique exhibition that will fully immerse you in Kusama’s psychological universe. The critics, likewise, have been full of praise for this exhibition:
Patrick Nguyen (Arrested Motion) on being surprised: “In our head, we had previously dismissed Kusama as the one who does all those damn pumpkins. After seeing the retrospective, however, we now concede that statement needs to be seriously qualified. The exhibition is strong and refreshingly diverse.”
Mark Brown (The Guardian) on Kusama’s mental health problems: “Kusama’s work cannot be disentangled from the mental health problems she has experienced. She admitted herself to a psychiatric hospital when she returned to Tokyo from the US in the early 1970s and from 1977 has lived voluntarily on an open ward, building a studio across the street and commuting back and forth on a daily basis. Kusama said she had been able to channel her illness into her art. ‘The doctors have said that it is because I have been able to channel it in this way, it has kept it in check and that is also precisely what many people love about my art.’”
Leslie Camhi (Vogue) on Kusama the feminist: “Her fierce commitment to charting a unique postwar path has made her a feminist icon, though she wasn’t above trading on a kooky, sexy exoticism for attention. In 1960s New York, she covered everyday objects—a baby carriage, shoes, a sofa, etc.—with countless phallic forms, sewn and stuffed, and presided, goddess-like, over orgies.”
Jackie Wullschlager (The Financial Times) on her most recent work: ”Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life (2011) turns the cube-shaped, mirror-clad gallery 14 into her vision of infinity: twinkling with hundreds of pinprick lights suspended from the ceiling, reflected in water, in endlessly changing colour combinations – turquoise, purple, gold, emerald – it suggests day and night, summer, winter, sea, sky, with our own mirror images rendered small and insignificant. Here, by the way, is an answer to Tate’s annual Unilever Series problem: not since Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project in 2003 has anything so visually arresting filled Turbine Hall. Bring on the latest Kusama – de-politicised, glamorised, reinvented for our age of spectacle.”
Sam Parker (Huffington Post) on the Kusama factor: “The Japanese-born 82-year-old is one of those rare modern artists who inspires delight rather than derision in ‘non-arty types’ [...] Spanning her career as a promising new artist in the 1940s right up to her latest paintings, this is a rich show full of depth that will delight Kusama’s fans – particularly anyone with an interest in seeing how her work has evolved, and at times regressed, throughout her experimentation with just about every conceivable medium.”
Mark Hudson (The Telegraph) on the Kusama paradox: “Kusama’s manic sense that her work does “battle at the border of life and death” remains just out of reach. But to expect otherwise would be to assume that the work of the psychotic artist inevitably evokes their condition. What we are left with instead is an enjoyable and evocative exhibition, and the sense of a very interesting artist much of whose best work – from “paintings” created from airmail stickers to “clouds” created from amorphous silver cushions – is, paradoxically, admirably sane.”
Where? Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG
When? 9 February – 5 June 2012
Open daily 10.00 – 18.00 (Friday and Saturday closes 22.00)
Transport? Southwark, Mansion House & St Pauls underground stations
How much? £10 (£8.50 concessions)