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Kudos to Kusama:
Kudos to Kusama, during her prolific 80-plus years on this earth, she has breached the divides between East and West, male and female, darkness and light, insider and outsider. Still painting obsessively every day in her native Japan, she has been influential for artists the world over, especially so during her long stint in New York from 1958 To 1973, where this major retrospective really excels.
Kusama wandered the mean streets of NYC in a pink kimono, twirling a floral umbrella and captivating America with her obvious beauty, free-spirited naked happenings and orgiastic body-painting performances. Not just a feminist icon, she befriended leading figures from the inner and outer circles of the art world including Georgia O’Keefe, Donald Judd and Joseph Cornell, the ultimate human butterfly collector himself, who was so taken with Kusama that he sent her barely coded love letters in the form of fetishistic collages.
Creatively, these were her most fertile years too, when she developed her elegant monochrome, moonscaped ‘Infinity Net’ paintings and sculptures of suitcases, sofas, shoes and ladders sprouting fat, fingery, potato-shaped protuberances, her famously fun and phallic ‘Accumulations’. Alas, an overabundance of these sensual, blobby objects and environments shifts this survey towards an attempt to rubber-stamp her importance alongside other great female artists of that era such as Eva Hesse or Louise Bourgeois. This curatorial stance is understandable but rather whitewashes the before and after – of what Kusama might mean in a Japanese context, rather than in our particular pantheon of art historical heroines.
Given her disturbing early life and work, shadowed by war and the onset of mental illness, it’s obvious why Kusama might have wanted to leave her homeland and torch much of her formative nihonga-style painting. What she left un-burned are horrific pictures of corpse-laden landscapes, surreal plant forms struggling towards a long-set sun and dark nebula of amoebic clouds, stippled with her first dots (circa 1955). Kusama’s alarming, spotted hallucinations inform so much of her subsequently obsessive practice that a deeper exploration of her troubling condition might have been welcome, if handled delicately, of course. Otherwise, we are left to navigate her polka fields and various rooms flecked with luminous points of light without much guidance.
Kusama’s repatriation also remains puzzling. Perhaps she was disenchanted by the US involvement in the Vietnam War, as is suggested in the catalogue, but her return to Japan was far from triumphant. Her nudist antics, combined with a psychological affliction, would surely have made her persona non grata in the buttoned-up Tokyo of the mid-’70s, where she voluntarily checked herself in to the institution that houses her still. Since then she has tirelessly reproduced her psychedelic patterns on public sculpture, canvas and in mirrored room installations, one of which provides the crowning, disorienting moment of this show.
Collaborations and taking art into fashion:
Marc Jacobs will continue his series of artist collaborations by working with Yayoi Kusama, the Japanese artist known for her whimsical dot motif.
Kusama’s signature dots will appear on everything from trench coats to pajamas and jewelry. Another assortment of products, combining Vuitton’s monogram leather goods and Kusama’s “nerves” design has also been a total success within the fashion industry.
Jacobs met Kusama in Tokyo in 2006. Their relationship led to Louis Vuitton providing financial backing for a retrospective of her work at London’s Tate Modern museum in 2012. Jacobs called the collaboration an extension of that support.
“Her energy is just endless,” Jacobs said. “For many people who don’t look at art or go to galleries, or maybe they’re not aware of Kusama’s work, there will be a new venue, a new place to see this work and to come to appreciate it through the eyes of Louis Vuitton.”
The last time Jacobs worked with an artist for Louis Vuitton was his collaboration with Takashi Murakami in 2003. He also worked with Stephen Sprouse in 2001.