Yayoi Kusama – Encrypted Enticement in Victoria Miro

Yayoi Kusama, PUMPKIN [WUTIU], 2018. Acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100 cm, 39 3/8 x 39 3/8 in © Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai and Victoria Miro, London/Venice
Yayoi Kusama, THE MOVING MOMENT WHEN I WENT TO THE UNIVERSE, 2017. Acrylic on canvas, 194 x 194 cm, 76 3/8 x 76 3/8 in © Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai and Victoria Miro, London/Venice
Yayoi Kusama, GARDEN OF WOMEN IN BLOOMING YOUTH, 2018. Acrylic on canvas, 194 x 194 cm, 76 3/8 x 76 3/8 in © Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai and Victoria Miro, London/Venice
Garden at Victoria Miro, London copy
Portrait of Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai and Victoria Miro, London/Venice © Yayoi Kusama
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Victoria Miro’s 12th Yayoi Kusama show at its Wharf Road Galleries in London is a ticketed event, and is sold out several days in advance. As I dawdle outside, clutching my (timed) ticket, diverse groups of interlopers arrive, pleading for entry in tones ranging from plaintive entreaty to arrogant entitlement. Two Frieze VIP-card holders are admitted, all others are politely rebuffed; one gallerist patiently explaining that the tickets help avoid “a four hour queue down the street.” This is an art show which needs a bouncer, albeit one in a Hugo Boss black suit with a strong resemblance to Cristiano Ronaldo. Indeed, such is Yayoi Kusama’s popstar appeal that the two young women queuing in front of me have come to London from the north of England especially to see this show of her new work. They saw her last one too. Neither woman has heard of Frieze, which is taking place not far away in Regents Park. Asked what Kusama’s appeal is, one replies immediately: “I just love the colourful dots.”

TEXT: Nicholas Stephens
IMAGES: Courtesy of Wharf Road Galleries and the artist

Yayoi Kusama, PUMPKIN [WUTIU], 2018. Acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100 cm, 39 3/8 x 39 3/8 in © Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai and Victoria Miro, London/Venice

 

The Infinity Mirror Room is the first highlight – a brand new hall of mirrors which holds a limit of three visitors for a maximum of one minute a time. There is a Victoria Miro staff member in the room at all times to make sure nobody trips up – after two hours at his post he is cheerful and upbeat: “This is therapeutic – it makes me feel chilled.” The room is a smooth combination of mirrors and lightshades; a computer programme operates a seemingly random, constantly evolving palette of hues which are simultaneously gaudy yet ambient, artificial yet soothing, controlled yet organic. Here, the visitor embraces the quest for infinity (or at least the illusory experience of a very big room), the riotous exuberance of Kusama at her most immersive. Rumour has it that every 67 minutes all lampshades emit the same colour for a few moments. I suspect all visitors would happily stay to await this phenomenon if not gently nudged out after 59 seconds by Victoria Miro’s polite and friendly staff.

 

Yayoi Kusama, THE MOVING MOMENT WHEN I WENT TO THE UNIVERSE, 2017. Acrylic on canvas, 194 x 194 cm, 76 3/8 x 76 3/8 in © Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai and Victoria Miro, London/Venice

 

Descending a staircase, visitors are confronted with the familiar / iconic pumpkin installations, the vibrantly random dots on canvas, the assembled calling cards of one of the planet’s most bankable artists. The blankness of this space allows for a serene and unhurried contemplation of the form, the spirit of the pumpkin which so fascinated the artist as a child in rural Japan. At this point, the visitor is at the second of the show’s three sections – the first (experiential, mesmerizing), the second (contemplative, anchoring), the third (restful, chimerical). The third stage is Victoria Miro’s garden, a homely nook of bench, pond and affectionate neighbourhood cat, running full-tilt at visitors for a hug and back rub. Unapologetically ensconced within the garden are three giant Kusama flowers, popping in raspberry red, candied pink, Smurf blue and Sprite green. They are curved, as if inviting children to sit on them and slowly fall to the ground to break their legs. The garden is a soporific, gently languorous place, yet these other-worldly flowers look resolutely alert, primed for a kind of muscular takeover. The gentle reeds in the pond seem to look less green, more mortal, somehow swaying in mute terror. These robust, perfect interlopers, their coatings occasionally reminiscent of ladybirds or cartoon dinosaurs, exude existential threat and pre-programmed bellicosity. After dark, they probably stand up and stretch, then decimate the plants around them out with Terminator-like efficiency.

 

Yayoi Kusama, GARDEN OF WOMEN IN BLOOMING YOUTH, 2018. Acrylic on canvas, 194 x 194 cm, 76 3/8 x 76 3/8 in © Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai and Victoria Miro, London/Venice
Garden at Victoria Miro, London copy

 

Visitors may leave via the not-for-profit Parosol Unit next door, which is currently showing a retrospective of German artist Heidi Bucher, encompassing her haunting latex “skinnings.” The Victoria Miro show does not let visitors beneath the “skin” of Yayoi Kusama – instead, the show projects and emits colours and motions which may form the basis for our deductions about the artist. There is a lashing out, a resistance in her work which frustrates enquiry, and encrypts in order to entice. It is no co-incidence that infinity plays a lead role in Kusama’s oeuvre – infinity being a concept that deflects and resists reasoned investigation of all kinds. The journey of discovery is never complete with Yayoi Kusama, but there are always more avenues to explore. From 2020 there will be a permanent Kusama installation at the new Crossrail entrance to Liverpool Street station, entitled Infinite Accumulation. Currently, there are two other opportunities to confront her story in London: there is the film “Kusama – Infinity” at the cinema, and there is Hayward Gallery’s group exhibition “Space Shifters,” which is showing her 1966 installation, entitled Narcissus Garden. Visit these to continue your long journey into infinity.

 

 

Yayoi Kusama – Infinity Mirrors
The most significant North American tour of Kusama’s work in nearly two decades, continues at The Cleveland Museum of Art (7 July–30 September 2018); the exhibition will subsequently tour to The High Museum of Art, Atlanta (18 November 2018–17 February 2019).

 

Yayoi Kusama – Life is the Heart of a Rainbow
The first large-scale exhibition of Kusama’s work in Indonesia, is at Museum MACAN, Jakarta (until 9 September 2018).

 

Yayoi Kusama – All About My Love
Taking place in the artist’s hometown of Matsumoto City, the artist’s major retrospective is at Matsumoto City Museum of Art (until 22 July 2018).

 

 

About the artist

Portrait of Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai and Victoria Miro, London/Venice © Yayoi Kusama

 

For almost seventy years Yayoi Kusama has developed a practice, which, though it shares affiliations with movements such as Surrealism, Minimalism and Pop Art, resists any singular classification. Born in Matsumoto City, Japan in 1929, she studied painting in Kyoto before moving to New York in the late 1950s, and by the mid-1960s had become well known in the avant-garde world for her provocative happenings and exhibitions. Since this time, Kusama’s artistic endeavours have spanned painting, drawing, collage, sculpture, performance, film, printmaking, installation and environmental art as well as literature, fashion (most notably in her 2012 collaboration with Louis Vuitton) and product design. Kusama represented Japan at the 45th Venice Biennale in 1993, and currently lives and works in Tokyo, where the Yayoi Kusama Museum opened in October 2017 with the inaugural exhibition Creation is a Solitary Pursuit, Love is What Brings You Closer to Art. Over the past decade there have been museum exhibitions of Kusama’s work touring the world in North America, Japan, Korea, Singapore, China, Australia, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Spain, England, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. In 2016 Kusama was selected as one of TIME Magazine’s World’s 100 Most Influential People. She was also named the world’s most popular artist by various news outlets, based on figures reported by The Art Newspaper for global museum attendance. In 2016, Kusama received the Order of Culture, one of the highest honours bestowed by the Imperial Family. Kusama is the first woman to be honoured with the prestigious medal for drawings and sculptures.

 

 


 

Nicholas Stephens is from London and has lived in Hong Kong for the last nine years, where he works for a leading Hong Kong gallery, specializing in contemporary ink. His articles on diverse aspects of the Hong Kong arts scene have been published in “Art Hong Kong”. A graduate in Modern Languages (European ones unfortunately!), Nicholas has authored translations of novels and plays by writers including Stefan Zweig and Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

 

 

 
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