Yayoi Kusama - Photo of the artist - Photo Credits Pizca

Yayoi Kusama

Japan 1929

Installation, Sculpture, Performance Art, Painting


Yayoi Kusama
Yayoi Kusama
September 26, 2014
Andreja Velimirović is a passionate content writer with a knack for art and old movies. Majoring in art history, he is an expert on avant-garde modern movements and medieval church fresco decorations. Feel free to contact him via his Linkedin profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/andreja-velimirovi%C4%87-74068a68/

With her portfolio consisting of works from the mediums of painting, sculpture, film and performance, Yayoi Kusama is a famous provocative avant-garde artist from Japan and one of the most prominent figures in her country’s contemporary culture. Born in 1929, her career has lasted for decades now and during that time, she established a trademark out of repeating motifs and psychedelic colors that imply on the themes of feminism, obsession, sex, aggression, psychology and powerful self-reflection. Kusama represents an artistic legend that stands as a real leader in the both avant-garde and post avant-garde movements.

Yayoi Kusama - Louis Vuitton Boutique - In the gallery or museum exhibitions, the infinity of installation is how you view arts
Yayoi Kusama – Louis Vuitton Boutique

Growing Up In Japan

As was mentioned before, Yayoi Kusama was born in 1929. She grew up in the Matsumoto City, a mountain town on Japan’s main island, Honshu, known for its Matsumoto Castle – a 16th-century stronghold nicknamed Crow Castle because of its distinguishing black walls. The young Yayoi started painting at an early age of 10, searching for an emotional channel to help her deal with a hard childhood full of neglect and abuse by her mother. By her own admission, the artist even had hallucinogenic visions during those stressful years. So, in an attempt to somehow deal with the harsh circumstances of life, Kusama began painting the aforementioned visions – the pieces consisted of dots and patterns she as a child saw all around her. It was feared that these apparitions were early signs of a serious mental illness, but as Kusama was growing up the symptoms started to gradually disappear. Ultimately, the visions were defined as an attempt of the mind to deal with neglect and isolation. These fruits of fantasy and the paintings they inspired were the basis for Kusama’s profession in the years to come. During the year of 1957, Kusama was inspired by the letter from the famous artist Georgia O’Keefe and decided she would go to the United States with intentions of following in her friend’s artistic footsteps.

Yayoi Kusama - Accumulation, 1963 - In the gallery or museum exhibitions, the infinity of installation is how you view arts
Yayoi Kusama – Accumulation, 1963

Welcome To New York City!

Yayoi Kusama arrived in the Big Apple at the age of 27. She already considered herself to be a unique artist, but she was suddenly caught in a society much more dynamic and generally different from Matsumoto City – so even though Yayoi knew she was in the right place it was still a rather stressful experience. She brought to New York that characteristic rejection of traditional art values and after some time managed to become a part of the strong artistic scene at the time when New York was arguably the second city in the world when it came to the avant-garde art, just behind Paris. Over the next decade, she garnered a reputation as a controversial member of the New York art society. She obsessively worked on her series of Infinity Nets, paintings and sculptures featuring meticulous, seemingly endless repetitive motifs. During these first ten years in the Big Apple, Yayoi Kusama also staged elaborate happenings throughout the city – most notably when she broke in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art and performed a happening alongside several of her naked assistance. She organized outlandish performance pieces in prominent spots like Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge, often designed to protest the Vietnam War – the ultimate enemy of the art at the time.

Seemingly endless repetitive motifs are the trademark of Yayoi Kusama’s art

Yayoi Kusama - Pumpkin sculpture, 1998 - In the gallery or museum exhibitions, the infinity of installation is how you view arts
Yayoi Kusama – Pumpkin sculpture, 1998

The Hard Times Of The 1970s

When she managed to establish a name of an avant-garde and progressive artist, Yayoi Kusama became one of the prominent female figures of the New York scene. She exhibited her work with the likes of Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg, directing the way modern art was going. She was enormously productive but did not profit financially from her work – something that never troubled the artist too much. At the peak of her career, however, Kusama started to feel yet again mentally unstable. Not wanting to stay in an American hospital, Yayoi decided to head back home and seek help in Japan that offered a much calmer place for healing. She spent the early 1970s in a mental institution where she wrote surreal short stories and poems. At one point she started to feel better and returned to the physically more challenging mediums of painting, sculpture and installations – but did not ever leave the hospital grounds. It has been recorded that Kusama created rooms in her ward full of mirrors reflecting her iconic polka dots and Infinity Nets. Nevertheless, she continued to have mental breakdowns and was often suicidal.

Yayoi Kusama - Polka dots - In the gallery or museum exhibitions, the infinity of installation is how you view arts
Yayoi Kusama – Polka dots

The 1990s And Kusama’s Return To The Top

After the artist started to feel better psychologically, she decided it was the right time for her to return to the top of the artistic scene where she belongs. As the public often loves a good comeback story, the audience welcomed her back with opened arms. She made many of her fine works in the 90s, but most notably she represented her country at the Venice Biennale in 1993 where Kusama received heightened recognitions from the international art world. Her mature works continued to share the characteristic obsession with repetition, patterns and accumulations – that is when she came up with a term of the obsessive artist, a title well deserved in every aspect. Kusama proceeded to work on her trademarks by covering surfaces – walls, floors, canvases, household objects and even naked assistants – with the already famous and unique dots. However, it should be noted that the artist was never able to get a grip of herself psychologically and never stoped seeking help from mental institutions.

Kusama made a career for herself by placing dots on literally any surface she could find

Yayoi Kusama - The obliteration room, 2011 - In the gallery or museum exhibitions, the infinity of installation is how you view arts
Yayoi Kusama – The obliteration room, 2011

Contemporary Works

Although she is now in her late eighties, Yayoi Kusama is still very active and continues to prove her reputation as the arguably most important modern artist of Japan. In recent years, she has created large public sculptures on commission and has made several films and documentaries, the most recent released in 2008. The same year, Kusama became the best-selling living female artist, with works breaking record prices at auctions. She continued to create pieces of art richly infused with autobiographical, psychological and sexual content. During this time, Yayoi also published a few novels and poem collections, as well as heavily influencing the fashion scene of the world. Unfortunately, she is still troubled by her mental state and even to this day she lives in a hospital in Tokyo – a hard choice she made a long time ago. Kusama once stated: If it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago. Yet another example of how fate likes to toy with the most brilliant of us all. In October 2006, Yayoi Kusama became the first Japanese woman to receive the Praemium Imperiale, one of Japan’s most prestigious prizes for internationally recognized artists.

Yayoi Kusama - Flower - In the gallery or museum exhibitions, the infinity of installation is how you view arts
Yayoi Kusama – The Flower

The Legacy Of Yayoi Kusama

Ultimately, there aren’t many contemporary female artists whose name precedes them as much as is the case with Yayoi Kusama. She did not only help push modern art down the direction of progress and advancement but also proved that it is possible to mix attributes of feminism, minimalism, surrealism, Art Brut, pop art and abstract expressionism without endangering any one style. Whether you choose to attribute her success to the artistic talent, her bravery or childhood hallucinations, there is no denying that Yayoi Kusama is one of the most era-defining artists of her generation – not the mention that her work is probably the most instantly recognizable of all the pieces in recent history. All in all, a true legend of Japanese art.

The artist is represented by David Zwirner 19th Street New York in New York, David Zwirner 20th Street New York in New York, David Zwirner London in London, Hang-up Gallery in London, Marlborough Fine Art London in London and Marlborough Gallery Monaco in Monaco.

Yayoi Kusama lives and works in Tokyo, Japan.

Featured Image: Yayoi Kusama – Photo of the artist – Photo Credits Pizca
All Images Photo Credits Yayoi Kusama

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2015Yayoi KusamaDavid Zwirner Gallery, NYSolo
2013–2014nYayoi Kusama: Infinite Obsession Centro Cultural Banco de Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, BrazilSolo
2013Dynamo: Un Siecle de lumiere et de mouvement dans l'art 1913-2013/A Century of light and movement in art 1913-2013Grand Palais, Paris, FranceGroup
2013Yayoi Kusama: A Dream I DreamedDaegu Art Museum, Daegu, KoreaSolo
2012Drawings from the mid-50s - D'Amelio Terras New York, USAnYayoi Kusama, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USAGroup
2012Yayoi KusamaTate Modern, London, EnglandGroup
2011Yayol Kusama: Heaven and EarthRobert Miller Gallery, New York, USAGroup
2011Yayoi KusamaGagosian Gallery, Rome, ItalyGroup
2010nYayoi Kusama, The Place for My SoulMatsumoto City Museum of Art, Nagano, JapanSolo
2010nMinimalism & ConceptualismJason Rulnick, New York, NYGroup
2009Yayoi KusamaMarlborough London, London, UK Solo
2009The Masked Portrait: Aspects of Japanese Contemporary Art 1949-PresentMarianne Boesky Gallery, New York, NYGroup
2008Yayoi KusamaMarlborough London, London, UKSolo
2008The Masked Portrait: Aspects of Japanese Contemporary Art 1949-PresentMarianne Boesky Gallery, New York, NYGroup
2007Yayoi KusamaVictoria Miro Gallery, London, UKSolo
2007NAOSHIMA STANDARD 2Benesse Art Site Naoshima, Kagawa, JapanGroup
2006Yayoi KusamaSakima Art Museum, Okinawa, JapanSolo
2006Yayoi KusamaRobert Miller Gallery, New York, NYSolo
2005UntitledGallery Sekiryu, Nagano, JapannGroup
2005Yayoi Kusama: Eight Places for Burning Soul Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Hiroshima, JapanSolo
2004KUSAMATRIX Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, japanSolo
2004KUSAMATRIXArt Park Museum of Contemporary Art, Sapporo Art Park, Hokkaido, JapanGroup
2003Yayoi Kusama Prints & Pumpkin Ceramic Object ExhibitionJean Art Center, Seoul, South KoreSolo
2003PaintingsMOMA Contemporary, Fukuoka, JapanGroup
2002Yayoi Kusama Solitude of the EarthRobert Miller Gallery, New York, NYSolo
2002Yayoi Kusama SilkscreenMubanso, Nagano, JapanSolo
2001Death of an IllusionPiece Unique, Paris, FranceSolo
2001Yayoi KusamaGallery Sekiryu, Nagano, JapanSolo
2000Yayoi KusamaSerpentine Gallery, London, UKSolo
2000Yayoi Kusama, Le consortiumDijon, France; Maison de la culture du Japon, Paris, France; Les Abattoirs, Toulouse, France; KUNSTHALLE, Wien, Austria; Artsonje Museum, Gyeongsangbuk-do, KoreaSolo
1999Yayoi Kusama RetrospectiveMuseum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, JapanSolo
1998Cage Painting Women 1967-1970MOMA Contemporary, Fukuoka, JapanGroup
1998Love Forever: Yayoi KusamaLos Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CASolo
1997Yayoi Kusama: Recent Work and Paintings from the New York YearsBaumgartner Galleries, Inc., Washington, DCSolo
1996Yayoi KusamaGallery Olive, Tokyo, JapanSolo
1995Yayoi KusamaGallery Kura, Matsumoto, Japan Solo
1994Yayoi KusamaNagano Prefectural Shinano Art Museum, Nagano, JapanSolo
1993Yayoi KusamaGalleria Finarte, Nagoya, JapanSolo
1992Yayoi KusamaArt Gallery K2, Tokyo, JapanSolo
1991Kusama's Collage 1953-86Nabis Gallery, Tokyo, JapanSolo
1990Yayoi KusamaShinon Nishiwaki Gallery, Kanagawa, Japan Solo
1989Yayoi KusamaGallery Kura, Nagano, JapanSolo
1988Yayoi KusamaBunkamura Gallery, Tokyo, JapanSolo
1987Yayoi KusamaKitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, Fukuoka, JapanSolo
1986Yayoi KusamaMusée Municipal, Dôle, FranceSolo
1985Performance: Flower of BasaraKuhonbutsu Joshin-ji Temple, Tokyo, JapanSolo
1984Yayoi KusamaGallery Stella, Fukouka, JapanSolo
1983Yayoi KusamaTubaki Gallery, Chiba, Tokyo, JapanSolo
1982Box Art by Yayoi KusamaGallery Kumo, Tokyo, JapanSolo
1981The Puzzle Art of Yayoi KusamaShibuya Seibu Department Store, Tokyo, JapanSolo
1980Yayoi KusamaToho Gallery, Osaka, JapanSolo
1979Yayoi Kusama Exhibition Chungeki Art Salon, Matsumoto, JapanSolo
1977Yayoi Kusama; CollagesGallery Nikko, Tokyo, Japan Solo
1976Yayoi Kusama: Obsessional Art, a Requiem for Death and LifeOsaka Formes Gallery, Osaka, JapanSolo
1969HappeningIwaibashi Park, Tokyo, JapanGroup
1968Nude performance at the discothequeElectric Circus, New York, NYGroup
1967Body Festival HappeningChrysler Art Museum, Provincetown, MAGroup
1966Kusama's Peep Show: Endless Love ShowCastellane Gallery, New York, NYGroup
1965Chrysler MuseumProvincetown, MASolo
1965Floor ShowCastellane Gallery, New York, NYGroup
1964Kusama: Driving Image ShowCastellane Gallery, New York, NY Solo
1963Driving ImageCastellane Gallery, New York, NYGroup
1962Yayoi Kusama Robert Hanamura Gallery, Chicago, ILSolo
1961Recent Painting: Yayoi KusamaStephen Radich Gallery, New York, NYGroup
1961Yayoi Kusama: WatercolorsGres Gallery, Washington, DC Solo
1960Yayoi KusamaGres Gallery, Washington, DC Solo
1959Recent Paintings by Yayoi KusamaNova Gallery, Boston, MA Solo
1957Yayoi KusamaZoe Dusanne Gallery, Seattle, WASolo
1955Yayoi KusamaTakemiya Gallery, Tokyo, JapanSolo
1954Eight Japanese Women Artistsoseido Gallery, Tokyo, Japan Solo
1952UntitledFirst Community Center, Matsumoto, Nagano, JapanSolo