Polka-dot mania: Australia is getting a major Yayoi Kusama exhibition
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Teenage rebellion takes many forms. Piercings and tattoos, scruffy attire and acid-bright hair or late-night dalliances thinly disguised as sleepovers. But for a teenage Yayoi Kusama growing up in Japan's Nagano prefecture, art and creative expression were her weapon of choice, a hedonistic escape from her traditional upbringing and the omnipresent tensions of World War II.
This intrinsic urge to create eventually led her to the bright lights and avant-garde aesthetic of New York City. To this day, the 88-year-old artist claims 'America is really the country that raised me'. Working alongside artists like Georgia O'Keefe, Andy Warhol and Eva Hesse, it was in New York that she sowed the seeds of her signature style and began a sixty-year fascination with polka dots, psychedelic installations and phallic symbols.
Everlasting Beauty for the Never Ending Universe (2016)
Collection of the Artist ©YAYOI KUSAMA, Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore, Victoria Miro, London, David Zwirner, New York, YAYOI KUSAMA Inc.
This fixation stemmed from her childhood hallucinations which she described as "flashes of light, auras, or dense fields of dots". These visions also involved flowers speaking to her, and the patterns in fabric that she stared at coming to life, multiplying, and engulfing or expunging her, a process which she has carried into her artistic career and calls "self-obliteration".
Self‐Obliteration by Dots (1968)
Collection of the Artist © YAYOI KUSAMA. Courtesy of YAYOI KUSAMA Inc. Photo by Hal Reiff.
Kusama's delicate mental health, marred by hallucinations and nervous disorders, have long been a subject of public interest. Since 1977, she's lived by choice in a mental hospital in Tokyo, continuing to work from her artist studio across the street.
Critics have condemned her work as decorative and even gone as far to as to say that she is fame hungry and overly self-promoting, but whatever she's doing, it's working. In 2014 the eighty-eight-year-old Japanese artist was named the most popular artist in the world, attracting an audience of more than two million to her exhibitions in a year alone.
Narcissus Garden in Venice (1966)
Collection of the Artist ©YAYOI KUSAMA. Courtesy of YAYOI KUSAMA Inc
For the first time, Australian audiences will get to experience her stunning oeuvre at Brisbane's Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) for 'Yayoi Kusama: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow', opening on 4 November.
The exhibition unfurls the whole of Kusama's life's work: from early watercolours and pastels to her ground-breaking paintings and sculptures from the 1960s, psychedelic films, performances, installations and political happenings in the 1960s and the early 1970s, as well as shedding new light on works from the 1980s, after the artist's return to Tokyo.
L: Yayoi Kusama ©YAYOI KUSAMA, Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore, Victoria Miro, London, David Zwirner, New York, YAYOI KUSAMA Inc.
R:Pollen 花粉 (1984)
Collection of Ota Fine Arts © YAYOI KUSAMA. Courtesy of YAYOI KUSAMA Inc
GOMA Director Chris Saines said, "Yayoi Kusama: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow' explores key motifs in Kusama's work since the early 1950s, her engagement with the body, and her expansive conception of space. It includes more than 70 works including early painterly experiments, a multi-decade presentation of the celebrated 'net' paintings, soft-sculpture and assemblage, performance documents, iconic 'infinity rooms' and large-scale installations from later in her career."
'Yayoi Kusama: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow' opens at National Gallery Singapore from 9 June) until 3 September 2017, ahead of its presentation at GOMA from 4 November 2017 to 11 February 2018.
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