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Indepth Arts News:

"Yayoi Kusama. Dots Obsession - Love Transformed into Dots"
2007-02-09 until 2007-05-06
Haus der Kunst
Munich, , DE Germany

From February 9, 2007 through May 6, 2007 Haus der Kunst in Munich will show the exhibition "Yayoi Kusama. Dots Obsession - Love Transformed into Dots". Balloon sculptures of vinyl fill the Central Hall and create an arrangement of tent-like caves. Two may be entered; another can only be viewed from outside, through small peepholes, much as in a peepshow itself. The smaller balloon sculptures appear as echoes of the larger ones. Dark purple light shines onto the black dots and their pink background. A video depicts the artist eating flowers. The exhibition is a production of Kusama Studio in cooperation with Franck Gautherot and Seung-duk Kim, Le Consortium in Dijon and Chris Dercon at Haus der Kunst.

Yayoi Kusama, b. 1929 in Nagano, Japan, worked during the Second World War in a factory that made parachutes. In 1957 Kusama went to the United States, where, in the late 1960s, she staged numerous happenings: body painting festivals, fashion shows and anti-war demonstrations. Donald Judd and Joseph Cornell were among her fellow companions. In 1973 she returned to Japan where she not only exhibited her works, but also published several novels and anthologies. Since 1974 her permanent, chosen place of residence has been a mental hospital in Tokyo; it is from here that she goes into her nearby studio every day.

Yayoi Kusama began to paint when she was about ten years old. Colored dots, the so-called polka dots, and nets were her motifs right from the beginning. Kusama initially created fantastic watercolor, pastel and oil paintings. Soon after her arrival in New York, she produced five, nearly monochromatic paintings: white grid structures on a white background. Rather than being repeated at regular intervals as with a pattern, Kusama's structures expanded like nets, without a beginning, end or center. Although they don't adhere to any established rules of order or symmetry, they nonetheless convey a certain balance. The artist herself has associated these structures with the terms "endlessness" and "nothingness" time and again. Soon her nets cover not just canvases but entire rooms. Phallus-shaped protuberances grow out of the ground and out of all possible objects: bulging cloth sacks, saturated with polka dots. Kusama has remained true to this form language throughout her life.

With Kusama's body paintings the object painted with dots loses its status of an adult, drifting back into a state of non- or pre-sexual innocence and anonymity. Kusama removes an individual's uniqueness by painting its body with polka dots, referring to this process as "obliteration." In an appeal very much in keeping with the spirit of the 1960s, she declares, "Burn Wall Street. Wall Street men must become farmers and fishermen... Obliterate the men of Wall Street with polka dots on their naked bodies." She believes that when individuality is obliterated, a fusion with the universe is possible. "Our earth is only one polka dot among millions of others. When Kusama paints your body with polka dots you become part of the unity of the universe," promises the artist in a press release from 1968.

Kusama's practice of self-obliteration using polka dots can also be seen as a Japanese variation of suicide: voluntary release from life at the right moment has a cultural-historical meaning in Japan and is considered to be a heroic act. One dies at the height of enthusiasm, losing oneself in a totality without contradictions and is united with a collective soul.

"Since my childhood, I have loved the round image of dots. Over several decades, dots have created, working together with net patterns, various types of paintings, sculptures, events and installations. They have indeed been moving freely about in the heaven of forms and shapes. Dots have taught me the proof of my existence. They scatter proliferating love in the universe and raise my mind to the height of the sky. This mysterious dots obsession. Dots even enter my dreams with art playing a trick on them, art which I love so deeply." (Yayoi Kusama 2006)

Several art movements tried to claim Yayoi Kusama as their own: her early works, the monochromatic paintings, were associated with Minimal Art; her more colorful works were seen as forerunners of Pop Art. Kusama's work was continually closely correlated to the mental-emotional state of the artist herself: objects covered in raw noodles became commentaries on eating disorders; the polka dotted, endless structures became pictorial expressions of hallucinations, which have afflicted Kusama since her childhood.

In the 1960s the media accused the artist of charlatanry because her happenings were often a combination of body painting, nude dances and orgiastic confusion. A vocabulary - roughly put, the conceptual instrument of gender studies - with which Yayoi Kusama's art might have been appropriately described, was not yet available. The fact that the numerous public actions in which the artist was involved, at the relentless expense of her own resources, should have led to an emotional breakdown in the early 1970s is usually ignored. The physical and emotional effort required of such performance artists did not yet command the respect it deserved.

The coupling of biographical background and psychological orientation with artistic work has seemed legitimate since 1974, the year Kusama chose a mental hospital as her permanent place of residence. It is, however, absolutely plausible that Kusama intentionally sets her viewers on the wrong track with her numerous references to the psychological content of her work. Perhaps her work is far less formed by obsession, phallus and trauma than is generally assumed; perhaps the artist is primarily concerned with the pleasure of play and the obvious craving for bulges, dots and mirrors - and, thus, concerned with drawing attention to the biased structure employed by many art critics and with luring such critics into the traps of their own laws.

In the 1990s the artist receives the overdue recognition she deserves. In 1993, Kusama is the only artist to be invited to design the Japanese pavillon at the Venice Biennale. She is awarded the prize for the best gallery exhibition in both 1995/96 and 1996/97 by the International Association of Art Critics. In 1998 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art mounts a large retrospective, which travels on to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 2006 Yayoi Kusama is recognized with the Praemium Imperiale.

yayoi kusama
pumpkin, 1994
paint on f.r.p.
collection benesse art site naoshima, japan
studio kusama

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