Yayoi Kusama: Infinite Obsession

Yayoi Kusama is an artist with an eclectic style and a bold personality. An exhibition of her work titled Infinite Obsession has travelled to Rio de Janeiro’s Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Brazil featuring her iconic polka dots patterns and claustrophobic environments.

Kusama was born in Japan and spent much of her younger years in New York, embracing the freedom of the Western creative scene. Working alongside the pop artists of the 1960s, her work progressed and took on a different angle and aesthetic to her contemporaries. Her iconic polka dot style was born out of a mental obsession that left Kusama hallucinating and perceiving a world that was covered in polka dots. Kusama applied these dots to objects around her creating an experience that captured what she perceived.

‘Yayoi Kusama. Obsesão Infinita (Infinite Obsession)’ provides visitors with an all encompassing experience of her work, with the floor and ceiling incorporated in many pieces.

fluoro spoke with Philip Larratt-Smith, Head Curator of the exhibition, about the charm of the polka dot and the artist’s compelling personal story.

(f) How does a broad range of media come together in the space?

(PL-S) Obsesão Infinita assembles a representative overview of Kusama’s entire artistic career, from the earliest paintings and works on paper to the most recent large-scale mirror room. The galleries at Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro have great character, in particular the original bank vaults that are claustrophobic contexts for Kusama’s obsessive art. Sometimes the shows one makes in such idiosyncratic spaces are the most memorable.

(f) How do Yayoi Kusamaʼs personality and art interact, when on show?

(PL-S) Kusama belongs to that small subspecies of artists whose life and art are inextricably woven together, like Edvard Munch or Louise Bourgeois.

The biographical roots of Kusama’s work manifest in the undulating surfaces of her Infinity Net paintings, her uncanny repetitions of phallic objects in her Accumulation sculptures, and the endless reflections of lights in her mirror rooms. By involving the spectator as a participant in her installations, she succeeds in recreating these highly subjective experiences in the minds and bodies of others.

At the same time, Kusama is a savvy businesswoman who created a compelling artistic legend out of her own troubled history. With her electric red wig and polka dot dress, she has used this public persona to promote her art and transform herself into a recognisable and beloved icon.

(f) How is a balance achieved between the light-hearted aesthetic of the dots and the context of Kusamaʼs obsession?

(PL-S) The polka dot has many meanings. Kusama has said that each polka dot represents a single human being, isolated in space yet defined by its proximity to other dots. It represents her vision of being, eternity, and the void.

With its clear graphic design, the polka dot appeals to graphic artists as well as fashion designers. The playful and ludic character of the polka dot explains why children instinctively respond to Kusama’s work. It may be that she has made her work out of tremendous personal suffering, and that she speaks in her work of an ecstatic happiness that she is unable to achieve for herself, but she transmits a joy and a transcendence through her work that are highly contagious.

(f) How do you believe Kusama is viewed today in comparison to her Pop Art contemporaries of the 1960s?

(PL-S) I think Kusama really produces a kind of psycho pop: that is, an art with truly popular appeal that sometimes uses some of the strategies of 1960s-era Pop Art, but always inflected with her own pathological specificity. Unlike the pop artists, Kusama is not really interested in critiquing or celebrating American popular culture, though it inevitably enters her work as a subject in the late 1960s when she begins making her performances, interventions, and actions.

Like Warhol, Kusama is interested to going beyond the confines of the art world (which even today is relatively small) and reaching a mass audience. Hence her collaboration with Louis Vuitton, for example. But her visual language derives from almost incommunicable experiences such as hallucinations, depersonalization disorder, and the compulsive tendencies that show up in her desire to obsessively cover any surface – a human body, the façade of a building, a canvas, or a dress – with polka dots. So there is really a tension here.

Yayoi Kusama. Obsesão infinita’ is on display at Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil until Sunday 26 January 2014.


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