Art of Eternity at the Yayoi Kusama Museum, Tokyo
She was a small girl who had a compulsive obsession to create, to express, to be free. In her quite perturbed youthful days in Matsumoto, Nagano, her family surroundings were overshadowed by a violent mother, a philandering father, and a wealthy family that disdained her pursuit of the arts—three major seeds of misery that ignited much of her prime hallucinations she herself described as, “Flashes of light, auras, or dense fields of dots."
Yayoi Kusama is not a deranged, mentally incapable person. The 88-year old avant-garde artist was merely a woeful victim of parental abuse, horrific childhood, and heavily laden deprivation of self-expression and love, and this eternal desire to burst her emotions in art is clearly seen in her Inaugural Exhibition “Creation is a Solitary Pursuit, Love is What Brings You Closer to Art” at her very own Yayoi Kusama Museum that opened last October 1 and runs till February 25, 2018.
Located in Shinjuku, in the heart of bustling Tokyo, the museum is an imposing white concrete modernly designed building, easily identified by Yayoi’s trademark of huge grey polka dots, randomly surfaced on the curved glass wall. Yayoi takes you to four floors of a summary of her long struggling years as a free artist, starting with 27 black and white silkscreen on canvasses on the second floor, taken from her “Love Forever” series from 2004-2007, which was inspired by her first exhibition of the same title at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1998-1999; and other works on her favorite themes about women, spring, flowers, birth and infinity.
“Love Forever (TAOW) 2004” is one of the striking silkscreen pieces in this section. A collage of women’s side profiles facing different directions, seemingly caught in a labyrinth of repetitive eye motifs, miniature doll figurines dressed in childlike attires (looking like Yayoi herself), and dots and curved lines everywhere, depict a chaotic yet protective world of a woman’s aspiration to connect freely with the universe.
The period between the late 1990s and the early 2000s was a vigorous era for Yayoi who, after finding her artistic niche in the US and returning to Japan after more than 15 years, was confronted incessantly with the forceful drive to propagate what she had planted outside her home country, and be able to share that surprising success to her fellow Japanese audience. Yayoi started to produce open-air sculptures and spread her works around Fukuoka, Naoshima, Kirishima, and Niigata and even in her hometown, Matsumoto. Internationally, her bold creations were welcomed in Korea, Lisbon, Los Angeles, and in New York where she garnered the Best Gallery Show in 1995-96, and other numerous citations.
On the third floor of the Yayoi Kusama Museum, we find Yayoi’s famous 16 acrylic pieces screaming with energetic colors, forms and lines from the “My Eternal Soul” series, spanning laborious work between 2013-2017 that have been exhibited worldwide. By then, Yayoi was well in her 80s, still living a secluded life in the hospital, and still projecting vibrant hallucinations, which she has always attributed to her call for “self-obliteration”—a term she speaks of quite frequently, to “obliterate oneself and return to the infinite universe”.
Yayoi has always believed that her “mental problems” were not meant to be cured, but to be used for generating force for her art. Indeed, she has committed a fair amount of “unorthodox” behavior, such as crashing uninvited to the Venice Biennale in 1996, shining in a golden kimono, and deliberately scattering 1,500 mirrored balls outside the Italian pavilion; shopping in a supermarket wearing a dress and hat overflowing with phalluses; or staging what she labeled as “naked happenings”—gathering naked participants to pose around branded New York landmarks, like the Brooklyn Bridge and New York Stock Exchange, as a visual voice for feminism, minimalism or anti-war demonstrations.
“My Eternal Soul” illustrates a series of often recurring motifs: little girls, dots, spots, amoeba organisms, protruding eyes, played around juvenile colors of bright yellow, green, blue, red, pink, orange, purple and black. One eye-catching and quite poignant piece is “Death of My Sorrowful Youth Comes Walking With Resounding Steps 2017”, one of Yayoi’s latest additions this year. Yayoi has often spoken openly of her own death even as a child, and having admitted suicidal attempts, she creates this irony of darkness and absence of fulfillment into a powerful composition of a blanket of bellowing stark orange, swallowing multicolored cell-like entities that resemble wombs or the symbol of rebirth, crushed against each other, as though lost and imprisoned in decay, yet eternally passionate.
No Yayoi Kusama exhibition would be complete without her beloved pumpkins, staged on the fourth and top floors. Yayoi writes, “When I see pumpkins, I cannot efface the joy of them being my everything, nor the awe I hold them in. I have captured the dignity of such pumpkins and their eternal expression of love towards humanity…”
It is truly phenomenal how such a woman, once ostracized, mocked, and misunderstood in her ripe youth had gradually blossomed across the world into the expressive and magnetic flower that she had always desired to be. Perhaps, it is the innate human thirst for juvenility and urge for hope and free expression that keeps Yayoi Kusama’s polka dots, eyes and prism of colors floating across the immortal universe.
October 1, 2017 to February 25, 2018
Tickets for January are On Sale Nov. 1st. You can purchase them here.
Thursdays through Sundays and National Holidays: 11AM to 17PM
CLOSED: Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays
Adults: 1,000 yen
Children (6-18 yrs): 600 yen
*Please purchase timed tickets in advance online for a 90 minute timed slot.
1) 11:00 to 12:30 (enter by 11:30)
2) 12:30 to 14:00 (enter by 13:00)
3) 14:00 to 15:30 (enter by 14:30)
4) 15:30 to 17:00 (enter by 16:00)
Yayoi Kusama Museum
107 Bentencho Shinjuku-ku Tokyo 162-0851