Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama

In 1929, Yayoi Kusama was born in Matsumoto, Nagano, Japan into a well-off family. She was diagnosed with neurological disorders at the early age of ten, which made her see the world differently from ordinary people. The world through Kusama's eyes became veiled by a thin layer of net, filled with large and small pebble-like polka dots; she started to sketch down these images in an attempt to alleviate the auditory and visual hallucinations as she drifted back and forth between reality and imaginary fantasy. Later when she rose to become a world-renowned artist, she told the media that art has always been the driving force supporting her to live. 



At the tender age of 23, Kusama had already held six solo exhibitions in Japan between 1952-1955. Her ambition did not stop there. Breaking away from the familiarity of life and cultural comforts of Japan, she boldly sent a letter across the vast Pacific Ocean to distinguished artist Georgia O'Keeffe, whom she had never met, in the United States. In the letter, Kusama expressed her desire to hold a solo exhibition in Seattle. The year was 1957 when her wish came true— she staged her first ever exhibition in the U.S. with the help of two artists. A year later, she began studying at the Art Students League of New York, and conceived the idea of her masterpiece: the Infinity Net series. New York's art scene was vibrant and overflowing with creativity at that time and it was the perfect time and place for aspiring artists coming from around the world. Yayoi Kusama soon debuted her white Infinity Net paintings in a group exhibition at the Brata Gallery, an artist's co-op. Suffused with dots discreetly ensconcing delicate and dense lacelike arcs, these paintings showcased the spirituality and interactivity of her unique oeuvre. The exhibition was a great success, and was followed by several other group exhibitions that subsequently secured this Japanese female artist's reputation in the New York art scene. Her works were exhibited alongside the likes of Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg at the Green Gallery in downtown New York, and this group exhibition was considered the first Pop Art exhibition in the US. Regarded as an avant-garde fixture influencing pop art contemporaries, her soft sculpture works in these exhibitions were later included in the collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art. 



Yayoi Kusama was an active participant in the protest against the Vietnam War and sexual liberation movements that began in the 60s New York. She organised numerous provocative happenings involving nudity in Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge, much to the headache of police officers. These daring and uninhibited actions propelled her to the headlines of New York's media, where she received even more coverage than Andy Warhol for a period of time. She "had a ball" at the 33rd Venice Biennale in 1966 with her infamous Narcissus Garden that remained one of the most controversial installations in the history of the Biennale. Thereafter, deteriorating mental illness compelled her to end her fifteen-year residence in New York. 



Yayoi Kusama returned to Japan in 1973 and began her isolated life, moving in between the mental hospital and her studio. Painting, writing stories, and poetry became her spiritual medicine. In the 1990s, the Western art circles began to reassess the works of Yayoi Kusama, and acknowledged her paramount contribution to the Pop Art and American women's movement in the seventies. Soon, Yayoi Kusama was getting invited to stage largescale retrospective exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Modern in London, among other major art institutions. Today, she is heralded as a national treasure artist in Japan, and her signature polka dot patterns are favoured around the world by the public and collectors alike.