Image credit: Collection of the Artist ©YAYOI KUSAMA. Courtesy of YAYOI KUSAMA Inc
The National Gallery Singapore's special exhibition featuring Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama has been pulling in the crowds. Yayoi Kusama: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow is South East Asia’s first major survey of her work, showing a side of the 88-year-old doyenne beyond her famed polka-dots and red wig. The much-anticipated exhibition, which runs till September 3rd, features her Instagram-worthy Infinity Mirror rooms and her latest works from her My Eternal Soul series.
Here are eight things you should know about Kusama before visiting the exhibition.
1. Yayoi Kusama is trained in Nihonga painting, a modern Japanese painting style
Her parents, traditional Japanese farm merchants, forbade her to pursue painting as a career and wanted her to be a housewife. Kusama refused, went to Kyoto and studied the Nihonga painting style. She found the rules and structures in the art style formal and restrictive, eventually dropping out to seek greener pastures in New York.
2. She found encouragement in famed painter Georgia O’Keefe
Kusama came across a book of O’Keefe’s paintings and wrote to the painter to express her admiration and desire to leave Japan. O’Keefe responded back ‘with kindness and generosity’, giving Kusama the courage to go to New York and establish her art career.
3. She started creating Infinity rooms as early as 1962
Her initial works used just LED lights, an immersive recreation of her hallucinations. Kusama began experimenting with mirrors in Infinity Mirror Room - Phalli’s Field (1965), a small room surrounded by mirrors and filled with polka-dotted phalluses to create the illusion of vastness. Kusama continued with the use of mirrors for her Infinity Rooms. Her latest Infinity Room is All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins (2016), filled with her signature pumpkins.
4. Kusama considered pop artist Andy Warhol a ‘good friend’
However, she indicted him for plagiarising her 1963 work, Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show, a boat covered in phalluses and with wallpaper of said boat covering the room. Three years later, Warhol created a wallpaper with a repeating pattern of a cow.
5. Louis Vuitton is not the only fashion house she’s worked with
In the 1960s, Kusama created the Kusama Fashion Company Ltd. Her creations were sold at Bloomingdales, sporting her polka dots and holes. In more recent times, she created lip gloss tube designs for Lancome and collaborated with Japanese designers on tote bags and clothes.
6. She has no particular art style
While many would associate her art to pop art, modernist art and art brut, she refuses to categorise herself under any category. She simply calls her art ‘Kusama art.’
7. Her net paintings are as equally significant as her polka dots
Her infinity net painting, White No.28 (1960), was sold at Christie’s New York in 2014 for US$7.1 million (S$9.83 million). This made her the most expensive living female artist.
8. Kusama is a performance artist as well
Besides her visual works, she is known to stage performance works with her body as well as other volunteers. She is known to paint polka dots on nude participants and sing. In her instalment Narcissus Garden (1966), she did an impromptu performance by selling her mirrored balls to passer-bys.