Kusama’s bold prints, bulbous sculptures and vivid paintings can be found in permanent museum collections from London to Los Angeles. However, as fitting for one of the world’s most in-demand living female artists, her work now has a permanent place on the world stage through an eponymous museum that opened in October in Tokyo.
At a media preview for the museum, the artist shared some of the thinking behind establishing a dedicated showcase in her native country. “Until now, I was the one who went overseas. But I now recognize that there are more people coming to Japan to come to see my work, and that is why I decided to establish a place for them to see my work, ” she said.
The contemporary five-story building designed by Kume Sekkei resembles a glowing lantern, and is located in the bustling Shinjuku neighborhood. The Japanese reverence for artistic work is ever present in both ancient temples and bold modern buildings, in the balance of cultural preservation centers and museums displaying some of the world’s finest modern art collections. As such, Kusama’s museum is in very good contemporary art company.
The Yayoi Kusama Museum plans to host lectures, gallery talks and rotating exhibitions from the artist. Guests are permitted for 90 minute visits, and tickets must be purchased in advance, so be sure to plan ahead as it does sell out. The inaugural exhibition features paintings from her most recent series, “My Eternal Soul,” as well as other new work, including black and white drawings and a bright new mosaic pumpkin from her beloved signature series.
“For me, there is no greater joy than for everyone to feel something of the philosophy of the Yayoi Kusama Museum. I have given my life to mankind, which I love so much. And that’s why I’m sharing the effort that I’ve put into expressing my art,” Kusama said at the museum preview.
Despite finding a permanent Tokyo address, it does seem as if her paintings and LED-lit rooms are everywhere at the moment. This increased visibility is due in part to the high-profile “Infinity Mirrors” retrospective of her work, which kicked off in February 2017, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and is currently on a five-city North American tour.
With every stop, the exhibition is breaking records. The Hirschhorn Museum experienced its highest attendance record for a show in 40 years, and advanced ticket for the Seattle Museum sold out immediately. Those lucky enough to have scored tickets to the Broad Museum line up every day to patiently await their 30-seconds of blissed out fame inside one of the Infinity Cubes.
Many also find the octogenarian artist’s biography just as fascinating as her work, too. Born in 1929 and raised in the mountain town of Matsumoto, Kusama became obsessed with patterns as a child and she started painting polka dots and net motifs in watercolors, pastels and oils. “Since I was 10 I began drawing. Even now, not a day goes by without me drawing,” she said at the Tokyo museum preview event.
She has been open about hallucinations that began during her difficult childhood, which shaped her artistic vision. “I still see hallucinations even now. Dots come flying everywhere — on my dress, the floor, things I’m carrying, throughout the house, the ceiling. And I paint them,” Kusama said at the Tokyo museum preview.
Establishing herself as a working artist, she left her native Japan for the United States in 1957 and there she created large paintings, oversized soft sculptures and staged events and demonstrations opposing the Vietnam War. Having achieved some recognition in the United States and Europe, Kusama in 1974 returned to Japan. A true creative risk-taker, Kusama turned her attention to penning novels for a number of years. However, she eventually returned to what grounded her most — painting.
As her profile increased in the ’90s in Japan, she began to build a worldwide audience for her work. In 1995, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) teamed up for a major of her work that also included stops at museums in Minneapolis and Tokyo. “Kusama is a truly innovative and individualistic artist of the last 60-plus years,” said Allan Schwartzman, co-founder of Art Agency Partners and chairman of Sotheby’s Global Fine Arts, who attended the opening. “She’s an artist who has spent a lifetime exploring both a wide range of subject matter, and also the wide range of possibilities to a rather narrow area and subject matter.”
It doesn’t surprise those who have followed her iconoclastic career that Kusama would seek to put her own stamp on the museum, from its overall design to the presentation of her work. “Kusama has an all-encompassing inclusive vision for her work,” Schwartzman said. “It is a world and a universe of her own making, and the museum is a gathering place for all different parts of her creativity,” Schwartzman said.
It’s a universe of plentiful polka dots and twinkling infinity cubes that the world will be able to revisit time and again at her museum. “I want to spend every day with the desire to do whatever is possible to bring love into humanity. To battle for the best for humanity in a society which is peaceful in a wonderful world without war,” she said.
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