On show until the 30th July 2016 at the Victoria Miro on 16 Wharf road London, is a major new exhibition by Yayoi Kusama. The exhibition includes new sculptures, paintings and mirror room installations extending over Victoria Miro’s three galleries and waterside garden.
The work shown includes her evolving series, ‘My Eternal Soul’, her exemplary ‘Infinity Nets’, as well as her well-known Pumpkin sculptures and mesmeric mirror rooms. ‘These new work’s as the Miro describes, ‘reflect her lifelong preoccupation with the infinite and sublime, as well as the twin themes of cosmic infinity and personal obsession, as found in pattern and repetition’.
Yayoi Kusama was born in Japan on March 22nd, 1929. She always wished to be a painter and started producing work from the young age of 10. However, unfortunately her parents had other ideas. They wanted her to marry into a prosperous family and become a dedicated housewife, taking away her art utensils. One might, therefore, classify her artistic fascination as a rebellion against these constraints. However, her astonishing talent and patience for intricate details was prominent from her earliest drawings.
The societal expectations working against Kusama in Japan made it practically impossible to become an accomplished female artist, which led her to escape to New York in 1957 to chase the American dream. On arrival she vowed that she would succeed in making a name for herself with her artistic passion and stores of creative energy. At the time, the art world was very much a man’s world, making it difficult for Yayoi to gain recognition, but she used her commitment and untouchable drive as a tool against this limitation. She devoted every day to her work painting nets, which immersed her every waking moment, with some pieces being over 33 foot long.
Having painted through all hours of the day, she speaks of how, ‘ the pattern would expand outside of the canvas to fill the floor and the wall’, creating a hallucination that surrounded her vision, (an aspect that can be seen reflected in her mirror installations), and breaking the boundaries of space.
Prominent themes of her art encompass obsessional tendencies; she began to become totally consumed in her work. For example, when she was painting an object all that would surround her vision would be that object, haunting her every glance making her feel panicked and overwhelmed.
Painting too much had made her severely ill and she returned to Japan where she admitted herself to a psychiatric hospital in Tokyo, where she has been living for the past 38 years. By day she works 9 till 6 producing her work, occupying a professional studio across the street, where she has a team of assistants. Her professionalism and devotion to her craft through her mental struggle is truly inspirational, harnessing her trauma and past experiences and channelling them, to enormously productive ends as seen in her current works.
Her works in this exhibition at the Victoria Miro clearly present her obsessional tendencies seen in the three mirror rooms: Chandelier of Grief, All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins and Where the Lights in My Heart Go, alongside 3 polished bronze pumpkin sculptures and a gallery of her net paintings.
In gallery 1 on the lower floor is the mirror room ‘Chandelier of Grief’ Upon entering, you see a single chandelier enclosed in a column. The mirrors placed around the whole space make the lights from the chandelier flicker around the room creating an enchanting and elaborate illusion. Kusama’s aim in this room was to create a space for reflection, ‘emotional and physical’, through grieving and sadness or on the other hand through that of discovery and inspiration.
On the upper floor of gallery 1 is the mirror room ‘All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins’, of which she has made varying versions since 1991. This repetition and fixation with pumpkins came from a young age as she states:
‘Pumpkins have been a great comfort to me since my childhood; they speak to me of the joy of living. They are humble and amusing at the same time, and I have always will celebrate them in my art’.
Inside this mirror room, each pumpkin is lit up by a yellow light, contrasting vividly against the black spots. The mirrors lining the room reflect the pumpkins everywhere, creating a visual hallucination of the repetitive patterns, a theme seen throughout Kusama’s body of work. Also on this floor are her three bronze pumpkin sculptures, embodying the repetitive dot pattern that immerses her art and being.
Outside the gallery in the waterside garden you come across two pieces, one within the canal itself called ‘Narcissus Garden’. The work includes mirrored spheres collected together to create, as Kusama describes it, a ‘kinetic carpet’. Also outside is her mirrored room ‘Where the Lights in my Heart Go’, a steel room with no light, bar small holes scattered around the room, creating a constantly changing, space. Kusama describes it to be a ‘subtle planetarium’, in which one may consider the unanswered questions of a metaphysical world. Upstairs in gallery 11 the pieces reflect Kusama’s obsessional persona particularly, and her love for repetition in the presentation of her most recent ‘infinity net’s in an assortment of colours, each net entrancing the viewer with each repetitive loop of paint.
Her work is also currently being shown at the Victoria Miro in Mayfair on 14 St George Street. The exhibition is entitled ‘Yayoi Kusama: My Eternal Soul Paintings’ and portrays her continuing ‘My Eternal Soul Series’ and her obsessional approach. Being described as ‘a surreal and humorous, as well as instinctual, approach to art making’, visuals such as eyes, faces and cell structures are a recurring focus.
Kusama’s language demonstrates the chaotic finery in these exhibitions: ‘the paintings are filled with an overflowing abundance of ideas that just keep bubbling up inside my mind. Everyone asks me where my inspiration comes from, but I just pick up the paintbrush and follow my hand and the work just flows from me. Afterwards I give them poetic titles which are also filled with meaning for me’.
These paintings encapsulate how her art immerses Kusama’s every thought and being and are definitely worth a look - admissions are free and continue until the 30th July.