Yayoi Kusama who thrilled London last year with her fabulous Tate Modern retrospective celebrates her 84th birthday today ( 22 March ). Kusama arrived in New York from provincial Japan in the late 1950s, she had almost instantly found herself at the epicentre of the city’s avant-garde, setting herself up as an abstract painter in the context of Abstract Expressionism, and creating works now known as her ‘Infinity net paintings’ – huge immersive canvasses covered in, and swimming with, tight swirls of white paint. This development represented a major departure from the art that she had created while still in Japan; from detailed, observational figuration in the traditional Japanese style with incorporated surrealist elements, to full-blown minimalist abstraction. This transformation, as the curator notes, would, for many artists, have been enough to constitute the arc of an entire career; but, for Kusama, it was achieved almost overnight, and was only the beginning.
Dealing with a remarkably long, intensely productive, and mind-bogglingly varied career, the curators have undertaken this retrospective through ‘a series of chapters’, creating fourteen self-contained and coherent units that each present us with a distinct creative moment or artistic standpoint. And so we are carried swiftly and bumpily onwards through what feels like fourteen shows; from Kusama’s foray into Pop Art, covering canvases with air mail stamps, paper money and sticky labels; her movement into sculpture, covering everyday items with proliferating phallic growths; her embrace of all things psychedelic, far-out, free-lovin’ etc, starting the ‘Kusama Orgy’ magazine for ‘nudity, love, sex, & beauty’, and staging ‘body festivals, in which naked ‘happy people’ covered each other in polka dots; to her final arrival at the large-scale and immersive installations for which is she best known in the West.
In December it was reported that the Japanese artist was in the process of leaving the Gagosian Gallery after 10 years and had committed to join the David Zwirner Gallery. Who says octogenarians are stuck in the past!
Photo: © P C Robinson Artlyst 2013