Yayoi Kusama: A Decade by Decade Guide to a life in polka dots
“Love is the most important thing.”
[Y]ayoi Kusama, epitomised now by her dotty artworks and sharp coloured bobs, is one of the most enduring artists still active today, with her latest exhibit showing at Victoria Miro Gallery for its final week. The main two things you need to know about Kusama’s artistic beliefs are that “polka dots are a way to infinity” and “love is the most important thing”. And these messages are abundantly clear in the masterpieces she creates. Here is our decade guide to the uniquely lived life of Yayoi Kusama.
30s & 40s
Born in Japan in 1929, Yayoi Kusama discovered the power of polka dots at just 10-years-old, after hallucinations of spots overtook her thoughts. According to the artist, her parents dictated that “painting was absolutely out of the question” as a woman, yet ingenious Kusama used seed sacks and organic materials as canvases.
After successfully exhibiting in Tokyo, Yayoi Kusama moved to the US, destroying several thousand of her own works before she left, perhaps to make room for the next two decades of experimentation in New York. She started out exhibiting large paintings mixed with soft sculptures, with the help of new aesthetic pieces like mirrors and electric lights.
Over the 60s, Kusama lit up the New York art scene with her pioneering works among the big name male counterparts like Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp and Roy Lichtenstein. Branching out from the walls of galleries, she launched media productions and staged numerous happenings in New York; from body painting festivals and fashion shows to more politically charged events like anti-war demonstrations.
Not only did Kusama link up social, political and cultural causes, she worked on her innovative installation pieces too – Infinity Mirror Room in 1965 then Kusama’s Peep Show: Endless Love in 1966. The latter was her first multimedia work, with hexagonal mirrors, flashing coloured lights, rock music and ‘Love Forever’ badges. Anti-Capitalist and not afraid to show it, Kusama created a Narcissus Garden in Venice of 1500 silver balls, as a critique of the commercialisation of the art world she sold the balls for $2 each.
Before leaving to return to Japan in the late 1970s, Kusama released Self-Obliteration, a short film we’ve featured below. This radical film and her happenings featured public nudity, only heightening the artist’s place as a revolutionarily political artist
Fast-forward to the 90s, when Yayoi Kusama had an internationally renowned artistic presence, with solo exhibitions across Europe, America and Japan, as well as her creating open air sculptures across the globe. A favourite installation of ours being her Self-Obliteration event in Tokyo where the exhibition and attendants alike were covered in polka dots.
Yayoi Kusama is even more of a household name. Producing public sculptures and fashion projects, as well as various retrospective exhibitions around the world. From the shimmering I’m Here, But Nothing in 2000, to The Passing Winter a cube which allows you to see mirrored infinity within it.
Kusama is still prolifically producing art you would recognise and love: just look to her series of art for the London tube maps, or to her 2012 campaign and aesthetic creations for Louis Vuitton. Her installations All the Eternal Love I Have for Pumpkins, Chandelier of Grief and Where the Lights in My Heart Go were last in London in 2016 at Victoria Miro, and we hope she’ll return again very soon.