N.C.A.D. Diploma in Art & Design

Sculptural Processes - Yayoi Kusama




​Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist who uses a wide variety of media including painting, collage, sculpture, performance art, environmental installations and fashion.  She has sold her fashion in Bloomingdales, designed phones, designed artwork for Lancome lipglosses and worked with both Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton for leather goods, ready-to-wear, accessories, shoes, watches and jewelry.  Kusama has also had works published as a writer (both fiction and poetry) and in film (of which she won several awards for Kusama's “Self-Obliteration).  Her work has been held in such reputable museums as The Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum and Tate Modern


Kusama is especially well known for her polka dots, repetition, patterns and psychedelic colors.  Her trademark polka dots are even recorded in a piece of her work from 1939 (when she was only aged 10) where a woman is covered by spots.  She speaks of visual and aural hallucinations from early childood and how she would rush to draw what she had seen.  Her work is based on conceptual art and shows attributes of feminism, minimalism, surrealism, art brut, pop art and abstract expressionism


In public, Yayoi is known to express herself in her art and become part of it, for example, she frequently has had herself photographed both with her work and while wearing her red wig and dresses covered in polka dots.  David Pilling noted in his article 'The World according to Yayoi Kusama' (The FT Magazine) that Kusama has stated how these repetitative drawings, such as the dots, help her to bury herself in the process and “obliterate” her anxieties.  Kusama is also known for symbolizing the polka-dots as the form of the sun, which is the energy of the whole world, and therefore polka dots can be thought of as a way to infinity.  Furthermore, in this article of Pillings', Kusama advises how she does not want her art to be categorised as kawaii culture and states how she wants "to be able to explore my art freely in an international context".  


Kusama became interested in the European & American avant-garde after she moved to the States in the the late 1950's.  Here she focused on sculpture and installation.  In the States she quickly established her reputation as a leader in the avant-garde movement and had her work exhibited alongside Andy Warhol and was associated with the pop art movement of the 1960's.  She had a studio in the same building as sculptor Eva Hesse and they became close friends.


By the end of the 1960's Kusama was experimenting with room-size installations that incorporated mirrors, lights and music.  She arranged Body Festival performances, which featured naked performers painted in polka dots, and staged various "naked happenings" protests (for example, in protest to the Vietnam War).  She held them in such places as the New York financial district, Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park.  In 1966 Kusama went to Venice Biennale (a famous Arts Exhibition held biennially in Venice), uninvited, and filled the lawn with 1,500 mirrored balls and started to sell them until the authorities eventually ordered her to stop ('Narcissus Garden').


Kusama returned to Japan in 1973 where she became an art dealer, however, after several years her business ended and she suffered a breakdown.  Experiencing these psychiatric problems she ended up voluntarily admitting herself to hospital in 1977 where she eventually took up permanent residency.  She has written a lot during this time in hospital (novels and poetry), however, her recognition as an artist somewhat faded for a while after returning to Japan and it wasn't until 1989, largely due to NY Center for International Contemporary Arts staging of 'Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective'  (curated by Alexandra Munroe), that interest in her art was again aroused.


In 1993 Kusama had the opportunity to attend Venice Biennale (this time officially!).  Here, she exhibited a mirrored room filled with pumpkin sculptures.  Again in 1998 her work was revived with a major exhibition, 'Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama', at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) - funnily this was the location where 30 years previous she was stopped from staging her protest “Grand Orgy to Awaken the Dead at MoMA”.  Kusama has completed several other major outdoor sculptural commissions – many of which are composed of large bright plants and flowers.  Eg. Pumpkin (1994), The Visionary Flowers (2002), 'Tsumari in Bloom (2003), Tulipes de Shangri-La (2003), Pumpkin (2006), Hello, Anyang with Love (2007), Hymn of Life: Tulips (2007).


In 2008, Christie's New York sold a work by Kusama for $5.1 million which was then a record for a living female artist.  This was one of her “Infinity Net” paintings – which featured lace like repeated white loops of paint.  Preceding Kusamas' Tate Modern Exhibition in 2012, she was commissioned to design the front cover of millions of London Underground pocket maps 'Polka Dots Festival in London (2011)'.


As of 2012, her work has the highest turnover of any living woman artist.