Yayoi Kusama is a contemporary artist from Japan. She mainly works with sculpture and art installations, but she has also produced paintings, performance art, video art, worked in fashion, and written poetry and fiction.
Her artwork is often categorised as conceptual art, and it draws inspiration from the art movements of minimalism, pop art, abstract expressionism, Art Brut, and surrealism.
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Facts About Yayoi Kusama
- Yayoi Kusama was born in Matsumoto, Nagano, Japan in 1929.
- Her parents owned a plant nursery, and Yayoi’s first drawings were pictures of pumpkins.
- As a child, she also made art based on her vivid hallucinations and dreams, that took the form of dense fields of dots, flashing auras, and flowers.
- She did not have a happy childhood, and her art became her escape.
- At the age of thirteen, during World War 2, Yayoi Kusama worked in a military factory. Her job was to sew the seams of parachutes for the Japanese army.
- She studied painting at the Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts in 1948.
- In the early 1950s, Yayoi Kusama started to produce her Infinity Net paintings. She would cover vast surfaces (large canvases, walls, floors) with polka dots. These abstract works have been compared to works by Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock.
- In 1957, she moved to the US, first to Seattle and then to New York. Before leaving she destroyed many of her early artworks.
- She was in contact with the artist Georgia O’Keefe and asked for her advice about the New York art scene.
- In the 1960s she developed the habit of photographing herself alongside her new works of art.
- Her Mirror/Infinity installations featured mirror-lined rooms containing dozens of neon-coloured balls hanging from the ceiling. The balls of light were repeatedly reflected in the mirrors, giving the impression that the pattern went on forever.
- In 1973, Yayoi Kusama returned to Japan. She was suffering from the effects of overworking and depression.
- In Japan, she began to write surrealistic novels, short stories, and poetry.
- She voluntarily checked herself into a mental health hospital in the 1970s, and this has been her residence ever since. She has a studio nearby.
- She had almost been forgotten as an artist by the late-1970s and early 1980s, but in the late-1980s and early-1990s, her work started to become popular again.
- In 1993, she created an installation at the Venice Biennale consisting of a mirrored room filled with pumpkin sculptures.
- She continued to create works of art throughout the first two decades of the 21st century, despite being in her late-seventies and eighties.
- Her 2017 work, All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins featured more than 60 glowing pumpkin sculptures.
- In November 2021, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art held a retrospective exhibition of Yayoi Kusama’s work. It covered approximately 3000 square metres, and featured 200 works of art, including four of her mirrored Infinity Rooms.
- Her work has been exhibited in cities all over the world, including New York, Los Angeles, Paris, London, Stockholm, Tokyo, Venice, Seoul, Rotterdam, Madrid, Sao Paulo, Houston, Toronto, and Tel Aviv.
- In 2008, one of her 1959 Infinity Net paintings (previously owned by the artist Donald Judd) sold at auction for $5,100,000. Her White No. 28 a 1960 Infinity Net painting sold for $7,100,000 in 2014.
- Yoko Ono has said that Yayoi Kusama was one of her influences.
Why does Yayoi Kusama paint polka dots?
Her obsession with dots is an attempt to recreate the hallucinations she experienced as a child (and throughout her life).
One day I was looking at the red flower patterns of the tablecloth on a table, and when I looked up I saw the same pattern covering the ceiling, the windows, and the walls, and finally all over the room, my body and the universe. I felt as if I had begun to self-obliterate, to revolve in the infinity of endless time and the absoluteness of space, and be reduced to nothingness.Yayoi Kusama
What are the significance of pumpkins to Yayoi Kusama?
Yayoi’s parents grew pumpkins as part of their plant nursery business. Pumpkins were the subjects of her first childhood drawings, and pumpkins formed a key part of the family’s diet during World War 2.
Yayoi Kusama has incorporated pumpkins in many of her works over the years, including paintings, sculptures and art installations.
I was enchanted by the pumpkin’s charming and winsome form. What appealed to me most was the pumpkin’s generous unpretentiousness. That and its solid spiritual balance.Yayoi Kusama
Some art critics have suggested that the pumpkins in her work represent Yayoi Kusama as a kind of alter-ego or self-portrait.
Why did Yayoi Kusama burn her paintings?
When Yayoi Kusama moved from Japan to the US, she did not burn all of her paintings. She took nearly 2000 with her in order to have something to sell so that she could generate an income.
She burned the rest (the ones she couldn’t take with her) so that she could have a fresh start in her new country of residence.