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Yayoi Kusama at Whitney Museum

yayoi kusama whitney museum of american art

Yayoi Kusama in Yellow Tree furniture room at Aich triennale, Nagoya, Japan, 2010 (detail). © Yayoi Kusama. Source: Whitney Museum of American Art.

Yayoi Kusama likes dots. More specifically, polka dots. For her “…a polka-dot has the form of the sun… Polka-dots are a way to infinity.” The current Kusama retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, July 1 – September 30, attempts to capture her efforts at lassoing the universe through art. Her best known works, the “Infinity Net” paintings composed of endless minute links and dots, which you see her laboring on below, perhaps best capture this yearning. Kusama has left her polka dot print through the history of modern art from her bold beginnings in post-war surrealism to her current collaboration with fashion designer, Louis Vuitton. Kusama was born in 1929 in a city outside of Tokyo, Japan to a wealthy, dysfunctional family who highly disapproved of her artistic leanings. Demonstrating the same searing intrepidity with which she would eventually slice through the New York art world, she left for a Kyoto art school and subsequently, America.

Kusama in her New York studio, c.1958–59 / Image courtesy: Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / © Yayoi Kusama, Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc

Kusama in her New York studio, c.1958–59 / Image courtesy: Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / © Yayoi Kusama, Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc. Source:

When Yayoi Kusama arrived in the U.S. in 1957, she found herself at “the epicenter of the New York avante-garde” (Whitney Museum), composing “happenings” of cloth-stuffed, phallus-shaped furniture, filling the city streets with nude, polka-dotted dancers, and most of all, getting her photograph taken with her signature symbol. A topic on which the art world is still ambivalent, the partially self-created myth of Kusama was built upon her penchant for being photographed with her work; seemingly blending in with it in both the literal and figurative senses. Another open secret of her fascination are her long-lived psychological issues. After returning to Japan in 1973, she checked herself into a psychiatric hospital, where she lives and works to this day. From an early age, Kusama claimed “flowers spoke to her; that fabric patterns came to life, multiplied endlessly and threatened to engulf and expunge her” (New York Times). Like her public persona, her mental state is writ large in her art, at times suffocating and morbid, at times exhilarating and joyous, but always, to borrow from Vuitton’s new collection title, “infinitely Kusama.”

Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929), Fireflies on the Water, 2002, installation currently on display in conjunction with Kusama retrospective. Photograph courtesy Robert Miller Gallery. Source: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

On a final note, don’t miss the opportunity to experience Kusama’s twinkling, mirrored room installation, Fireflies on the Water. Access is limited to one person and one minute only, with timed tickets. Learn more about this exhibit on the Whitney Museum website.