"Art," Yayoi Kusama once said, "is both the symptom and cause for my obsession." Indeed, her works -- many of which amalgamate thousands of polka dots into recognizable forms -- are the manifestation of the spots, nets, and flowers that she... [more]
"Art," Yayoi Kusama once said, "is both the symptom and cause for my obsession." Indeed, her works -- many of which amalgamate thousands of polka dots into recognizable forms -- are the manifestation of the spots, nets, and flowers that she has seen in hallucinations since childhood. Many cite her troubled upbringing in Japan, which included surviving both the Great Depression and World War II, as the source of her vacillating mental state. Today, Kusama opts to live in a mental institution in Japan, using her obsessional art as a life-saving therapy. "If it hadn't been for art, I'd have killed myself a long time ago," she says.
Kusama moved to New York in 1958 to make a name for herself in the avant-garde with her 'aggregation-sculptures" and brash Performance art. Her career had a promising start, earning her comparisons with the likes of Andy Warhol. The personal nature of her sculptures attracted attention in an era when many sculptors were striving for impersonal abstraction. Her "Oven-Pan," a 1963 work, covers its eponymous baking object with cloth phalluses and even includes a spatula with which to serve up the strange treats. Another piece, "My Flower Bed" (1965-66), consists of painted, covered mattress springs adorned with stuffed gloves. When asked to trace the roots of her organic aggregates, Kusama explained, '[My art] arises from a deep, driving compulsion to realize in visible form the repetitive images inside of me.'
Despite the acclaim won by her sculptures, her pioneering Happenings, and her multimedia installations, Kusama found neither financial support nor mental stability in New York. She returned to Tokyo in the 1970s, leaving many of her creations to fall into obscurity or decay. Retreating to a Tokyo mental hospital, she found new creative inspiration in the institution's art therapy program. Soon she was producing wildly patterned works that have since drawn labels such as 'Post-Hypnotic' and 'Post-Minimalist.'
Kusama's early works featured small, weblike marks that speak to a Minimalist aesthetic; her 1990s work has moved on to intricate patterns and clusters of polka dots. 'Dots Obsession' (1997) decorates an entire gallery space with black splotches -- crawling up ceilings, slithering over floors, sidling up walls, they produce a creepy sense of movement. Kusama's "psychosomatic art" exerts a huge influence on today's young artists; a retrospective of her work hosted by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1998 drew unusually adulatory crowds. Now that she no longer confines herself to institutional life, it may that this perennial outsider will find unexpected support from across the world of art. [show less]