Existentialism Covered in Colorful Dots
Yayoi Kusama: In Infinity, currently showing at Moderna Museet, in Stockholm, is the first major retrospective of the artist’s oeuvre being held in Scandinavia, with works presented dating from the 1950s to today.
The world is made out of polka dots. This is the world of Japan’s most famous artist, Yayoi Kusama, who is the subject of the touring Scandinavian exhibition titled Yayoi Kusama: In Infinity, currently showing at Moderna Museet, in Stockholm. It is the first major retrospective of the artist’s oeuvre being held in Scandinavia, with works presented dating from the 1950s to today. The remarkable practice of Kusama’s magical, colorful and fun art, which encompasses an astonishing variety of media, certainly keeps the public fascinatinated. A precursor of pop art, minimalism, abstract expressionism and feminist movements, Kusama continuously innovates and re-invents her artistic practice and keeps on contributing as a matriarch of the contemporary art scene.
Kusama (b. 1929, Matsumoto, Japan) started painting at the age of 10. With disturbing hallucinations and a strong resistance from both her parents against painting, she chose to study art and developed her skills in traditional Japanese Nihonga. By the end of the 1950s, Kusama moved to New York and became part of the scene that shaped the history of art in the 1960’s. As a young struggling artist in New York, Kusama got in touch with and influenced peers such as Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and George Segal. She outshone, in a male-dominated art world of the time, many of these peers and rose to fame by performing and organizing dot orgies, naked anti-tax happenings and anti-war protests. In 1959, she produced her first Net paintings, paradoxically aiming to quantify and constrain “infinity” within the structure of a readymade canvas.
Continuing from the subject of infinity, the exhibition at Moderna Museet is a mixture of works from her most famous era in New York as well as from during the decades after her fame. Those years (1973 – present) were when Kusama silently went back to Japan, had herself committed into a mental institution from where she remains today, making her works with an obsessiveness and a desire to escape psychological traumas.
The first two rooms we see are rather psychedelic settings, with the ecstasy and the magic being all there and the expression “Make Love, Not War” intrudes the mind. Kusama continues selling her hypnotic works in this exhibition, describing her dots as a “virus”. But despite self-accusations of lunacy, Kusama’s imagination remains a force to be reckoned, as one reflects upon her influence on conceptual art and her ongoing battle for peace in both her own mind and with the wider world.
Large-scaled and colorful canvases, polka-dotted plastic sculptures and dresses with circular cut-outs and holes seem to amuse. This is a colorful and fun exhibition, but also ecstatic and hysteric, concepts prone to be used when describing artistry where drowning and extinctions are among the main goals. Follow the patterns of the dots and plentiful phalluses and realize that the exhibition is not only fun but also existential. Kusama’s artistic medium is magic and repetitiveness. She succeeds in finding the sense of infinity and the limitless by using mirrors, which form hallucinatory cross-borders between the spatial forms, the observers and the art work. Yet it also creates emptiness.
Between the sensations of Kusama’s fun and colorful art, thereis emptiness. Her works of art make the observer smile but Kusama herself rarely does so. When relating the exhibited works to her odd interviews where Kusama often touches upon the subjects of existence and death, Buddhist thinking comes to mind. With its severity and sought-out emptiness, it claims, as Kusama does, that everything is painful, life is suffering and ultimately it all leads to total extinction. Although Kusama claimed that she was never a believer, I suddenly see her art in the light of Zen Buddhism, which has been proven to be behind much of the 60’s happenings and hippie culture. What we are left with in Yayoi Kusama: In Infinity is an enjoyable and existential exhibition, and a sense of a very interesting artist whose work seems, paradoxically, sane.
Yayoi Kusama: In Infinity
June 11 – September 11, 2016
Moderna Museet, Stockholm
Address: Skeppsholmen, Stockholm
>Hours: Tuesdays: 10 am – 8 pm, Wednesday- Sunday: 10 am – 6 pm | Closed Mondays.