Yayoi Kusama: The Master Of Infinity – Film Review – Isa Freeling

No doubt that when you hear the name Yayoi Kusama, images of the vivid twinkling lights from her infinity Mirror Rooms escape from your memory banks bursting across the inside of your eyelids.

She was a groundbreaker for women and a cultural anomaly for the New York art scene of the 1960s

But how much do you know about this wondrous artist born in a time when renowned artists were for the most part men, and women artists were merely witnesses to their success. Women often painted in a vacuum and seldom presented in a gallery for nothing more substantial than a group show.

Born on March 22, 1929, in Matsumoto City, Japan she was an artist from the very beginning of her life, despite her mother’s disdain and wish for her to concede to a conventional life of marriage and children. She had a troubling childhood coloured by her parents unhappy marriage.  Though people often thought of Japanese women as acquiescent– Yayoi Kusama was anything but that, she was determined, in the face of every cultural more, whether Japanese or American, to make her way into the American art world, notwithstanding her diminutive female frame, she demanded to be heard and fearlessly threw herself into the task, sometimes causing quite a stir. She was a groundbreaker for women and a cultural anomaly for the New York art scene of the 1960s.

Because we are so immersed in the immediacy of information coming to us quickly, we forget what life was like for women 50 years ago, KUSAMA–INFINITY reminds us of the enormity of crossing the Rubicon for women from a multitude perspective. Shockingly, we are confronted with famous male artists who co-opted elements of her innovations for their use, tellingly an artist’s wife apologises for him using Kusama’s genius for his work thus the audience is left stunned. While she starved, they made a fortune.  Later in life when her meteoric fame suddenly burst into public consciousness, there was finally recompense.  Despite her fearlessness, her shamelessness and shrewdness, she was thwarted, but then something unanticipated happened many years later after she broke down and went to live in a psychiatric hospital. A Japanese art doyen who was bound to exploit her work, ironically from the very same town that shunned her, set her career in motion once again and like the sun emerging from a long dark eclipse set the light on Yayoi Kusama.

At last, after all of her suffering, we were awakened to her incandescent “infinite” vision of the universe. There is so much meat in this biography before one knows it a bite has been swallowed before it has been chewed.  There is more to this story than that of a struggling artist. It has the density that keeps one captivated throughout.

Film Director, Heather Lenz did an outstanding job portraying this great icon of the 21st century, presenting a bold and honest tableau of a life fraught with fiery determination, matched by hardship and rejection yet ultimately triumphant, however not without its scars.  Putting together an array of archival photographs and footage from Kusama’s life paired by interviews with leading members of the art world KUSAMA–INFINITY is a very humane and nuanced take on the patterns in her life. Her obsession to express something deep within her psyche repetitively and wish for it to be recognised– compelled by forces beyond her control, demanding to be heard as a unique force of artistic intelligence. Ms Lenz with her excellent consortium of editors, composer and a throng of producers, created a poignant soliloquy to the magic going on inside Yayoi Kusama’s head, thus forced into the open by the artists will, which only in the last 15 years or so has shown her compulsive genius. She is one of the most recognised artists in the world at this time, and her life story is no less an epic than her life’s work.

Kusama- Infinity will forever be instilled in my mind as a great story; an excellent documentary.  Ms Lenz deserves all the praise in the world for this feat of cinematic exposition of a most unusual person’s life.

Released by Magnolia Pictures. Sundance Official Selection FROM SEPTEMBER 7TH FILM FORUM NY  NUART THEATRE, LA

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