Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dots Mark The Spot: Yayoi Kusama’s Triumphant Return To NYC

Yayoi Kusama holds sway over all. Via.

The Louis Vuitton store on Fifth Avenue has a new look. What appears to be strips of dot matrix snake skin sliced from a coiled, psychedelic cobra, curls around the building. The offbeat aesthetic stems from an unprecedented collaboration between Vuitton and Yayoi Kusama, one of Japan’s foremost pop artists.

Still active at the age of 83, Kusama is known in the U.S. for her meticulous (some might say obsessive) dot-infused creations from the 60s, when she lived in New York at the height of the city’s avant-garde movement, traveling in the same circles as Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and Mark Rothko. According to Holland Cotter writing for the New York Times:
It was during that American sojourn… that she did her best-known work: eyelet-patterned abstract paintings, furniture bristling with soft-sculpture phalluses, and polka-dot designs suitable to any and every surface… In the New York City of the mid-’60s she and her art were everywhere. Newspapers clamored for photographs of her wearing dots, painting dots, mingling with the dot-covered nude dancers in street performances that were part protest, part circus.
After her move back to Japan in 1973, she checked herself into a psychiatric hospital where she continues to work to this day. Talking to Women’s Wear Daily about everything from her time in New York City to collaborating with big business, Kusama said of her living situation:
I think that if I didn’t live in the hospital, I couldn’t continue painting. I have hallucinations and these symptoms. The fact that I feel safe in my surrounding allows me to keep painting.
Despite the psychedelic nature of her work (or perhaps because of it), she remains popular, and the Louis Vuitton project, a commission by creative director Marc Jacobs, is only the latest commercial collaboration with mainstream fashion houses.

Marking her first Manhattan visit in more than 30 years, Kusama was on hand for the launch of Vuitton’s new line of Kusama-inspired clothing and accessories (the store also features two window displays of her work: “nerves”, sprouting elongated pink-and-dotted tubules and “self-obliteration”, chock full of mini Kusama dolls), which coincided with a comprehensive retrospective of her work at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Running through September 30, the exhibit features many of her well-known paintings and sculptures, as well as  immersive large-scale installations. Kusama says these installations recreate her hallucinatory experiences, due to mental illness, at the visual and sensory levels, capturing “the feeling of losing your bearings and losing yourself in the process”. The most recent of these, Fireflies on the Water (2002), consists of hundreds of lights reflected by mirrored walls and pools of water, creating an ethereal and spiritual environment (video).

Kusama has a special connection to Japan Society, which owns one of her early paintings entitled Net S.P. (1961). While smaller than her usual works, it bears her hallmark repeating-pattern aesthetic and has an obvious connection to later works such as the Infinity Net series, according to Reiko Tomii, who co-authored the catalogue to Japan Society’s 2007 exhibit Making a Home, featuring Kusama. The circumstances under which the Society acquired the painting are not quite known, but it assumed that the artist donated it after receiving support from the Society when she first arrived to the U.S.

Over 40 years later in 2008, the Society presented the U.S. premier of the documentary Near Equal Kusama Yayoi: I Adore Myself , which won the JAPAN CUTS Audience Award and introduced her to many that may have been unfamiliar with her life and work.

It seems at last Kusama’s star has risen for a new generation.

--Lyle Sylvander

KUSAMA Yayoi, Net S.P., 1961, oil on canvas, 30 X36 1/8" (76.2 x 91.8 cm), Japan Society JS 12.200; gift of the artist. Photo by Steven Williams.

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