Step Into a World of Polka Dots at the Yayoi Kusama Museum in Tokyo!
It is no exaggeration to say that Yayoi Kusama is at the forefront of the modern art world with her polka dot art. The best place to learn about her artistic genius is the Yayoi Kusama Museum in Waseda, Tokyo, where you can explore themes such as "infinity," "eternity," and "proliferation" that describe the work of the reigning "Queen of Polka Dots." In this article, we will talk about Yayoi Kusama herself, the history of her works, and her immeasurable charm.
Jun 08 2020
A Museum Nestled in the Quiet Waseda Neighborhood of Tokyo
The Yayoi Kusama Museum opened in October 2017 in a building overlooking a quiet, residential neighborhood in the Waseda/Kagurazaka area. The creative five-story building also has a basement level and the asymmetrical window panes that decorate the rounded exterior glow with the bright light from inside.
The museum was founded by Yayoi Kusama herself and is run by the Yayoi Kusama Foundation. In addition to exhibits of the artist's works and materials, the space also hosts events such as lectures, gallery talks, and workshops. The museum hopes to spread the image of "peace and love" that flows from her works to the world.
1F Entrance Hall & Shop
The entrance to the Yayoi Kusama Museum is fitted with a glass window decorated in a large polka dot pattern that beckons you into Kusama's own stylish and creative world.
A red, polka dot-patterned elliptical installation piece greets you as soon as you step foot into the lobby. This piece is from the Spirits of Aggregation exhibit that was held from October 2019 to January 2020, but the work displayed here will differ based on the museum's current exhibition.
There are lockers to the side of the counter that are free to use, and there are also beautiful souvenirs and goods on sale. Safely put your things away and leap into Kusama's fantastic world.
"Infinity" and "Proliferation": Yayoi Kusama's Time in New York
Heather Lenz's 2018 documentary about Kusama focuses on the artist's little-known career beginnings. After contacting the female American photographer Georgia O'Keeffe in 1955, Kusama hid American dollars in her dress and shoes and brought her passion and unwavering conviction for art with her to the United States.
After immigrating to New York in 1958, Kusama independently made her way into the New York art scene, focusing on her creative exploits and soon taking the title of an avant-garde artist. Kusama presented the first large-scale painting series in New York, entitled Infinity Nets. These paintings attracted attention for disregarding overall composition and conventional focal points in favor of a black and white net pattern that repeatedly shows a fixed movement.
Yayoi Kusama in Recent Years: An Eternal Love for Art
Constantly dealing with her feelings in facing death, Kusama spends each day single-mindedly painting. At 83 years old, she exhibited the 20-piece series My Eternal Soul collection at Tate Modern in London, England, which is now on display on the 3rd floor of the gallery. (This may differ depending on the exhibition.)
Kusama began working on My Eternal Soul in 2009, hoping for the collection to eventually be comprised of 100 pieces. The collection now has over 660. In an interview, Kusama talked about how she would like to paint over 1,000 pieces in the future, a statement that speaks to the artist's vast love for her work.
Kusama devotes all of her time to her art, creating masterpieces wholeheartedly without first working through drafts. The My Eternal Soul series is a poignant balance between subtlety and power.
Made up of mirrors that make the room appear infinite in scope, the exhibit on the 4th floor is a popular photo attraction. This installation is from the ZERO IS INFINITY ZERO and Yayoi Kusama special exhibition that was displayed from March to May 2020.
In this area, there are also other extremely photogenic works from past exhibits, including the pumpkin room mirror room installation.
A Multifaceted Pioneer of Art
Kusama, the Japanese female artistic pioneer, struggled to survive in the New York art world.
In a documentary entitled Kusama: Infinity, she spoke of how some of her artwork concepts were imitated by other artists, including the "soft sculpture" artwork she began in 1962. For this, she used cotton, fabric, and paper textiles to create furniture covered with phallic protrusions resembling male genitalia, representing her fear of sexuality that she had since she was young. However, in 1966, Claes Oldenburg exhibited his Soft Bathtub piece that used the same techniques, leaving Kusama's work in the shadows and widely unknown. Later, her pieces using mirrors as a medium and installations that used duplicate pictures and inter-changing images were also imitated by other artists.
5F Rooftop Gallery & Lounge Space
A Love for Pumpkins
Pumpkins are especially symbolic of Kusama's work, a fact which shows her extremely deep love for them. The documentary ≒YAYOI KUSAMA, I ADORE MYSELF goes into detail about the installation of Red Pumpkin on the island of Naoshima and includes a scene of Kusama herself reciting Red Pumpkin, a poem expressing her infinite love for these objects.
In recent years, Kusama's pumpkin series have quickly made their way around social media sites, with her outdoor sculptures and pumpkin installations gaining wide popularity. The Red Pumpkin and Yellow Pumpkin sculptures on Naoshima in the Seto Inland Sea are a couple of the main attractions of the area.
A silver-toned pumpkin decorates the exhibit space of the fifth floor, the top floor of the museum. Your first look at this impressive sculpture will surely leave a deep impression.
On this floor, not only can you enjoy gazing at Kusama's 3D masterpiece, but also browse materials in the lounge space that document Kusama's life.
In addition to the artist's pumpkin series, Kusama's Tsumari in Bloom exhibition at the Matsudai NOHBUTAI museum in Niigata Prefecture and her Visionary Flowers installation at Matsumoto City Museum of Art in her hometown of Nagano have also garnered high praise.
Painting "Love and Peace" With Art
In 1966, Kusama created an unauthorized exhibition at Italy's Venice Biennale. She installed and sold her piece Narcissus Garden outside the official exhibition venues, an act which in turn was well-received by the public. At the time, Kusama was trying to challenge the common conceptions of fine art. In 1993, 27 years later, Kusama returned to Venice Biennale. This time, she came as a long-awaited representative for Japan, holding a large-scale solo exhibit in the Japan Pavilion.
Kusama has long believed in her own art, and even now follows her own terms and intuitions. Her affinity with polka dots launched her art career, helped her overcome hardships, and helped her become a highly-acclaimed, world-famous representative of the artistic avant-garde.
Kusama is now 91 years old and still using her faith in art to create new artwork every day. Next time you make it to Tokyo, be sure to visit the Yayoi Kusama Museum, not to simply gaze upon the magnificence of her artwork, but to truly delve into the messages, history, and emotions rooted in each piece. We hope that this article can provide some help with that experience.
*Due to COVID-19, the Yayoi Kusama Museum will be temporarily closed beginning on March 9, 2020. For more information on when the museum will open again, please check the museum's official website.
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.