A Beautiful Rebellion
Now in her mid-90s she was born conservative of the Japanese middle class and openly rebelled from her family’s expectations; she was expected to live the humble restrictive life of a homemaker. But rather than attending finishing school she went against the wishes of her family to study art. After stumbling across a book by O’Keeffe, stunned by her works Kusama wrote to O’Keeffe and received not only return letters but introductions to prominent contacts in the art world. Choosing to reinvent herself in this brave new dynamic art world she took the cathartic step of setting fire to over 2000 works, turning her back on Japan for a clean slate.
She found her voice in New York, as a Japanese woman in the male-dominated world of art, during a time when the opposition between Japan and America during the war was still at the forefront of minds. An alien in this bustling city in the late 50s, she was obsessively prolific in the face of racism and sexism.
Shifting from a life of wealth and privilege afforded by the support of her father; to poverty in the name of art and newfound freedom she survived on black coffee, onions and potatoes.
Craving fame and notoriety, she evolved from painting to performance. Gravitating to the radical during a time of flux, often collaborating with photographers and videographers, she plays in the liberal, in the space encompassing both artist and subject, becoming synonymous with her work. Evolving into a true visual artist, she did the unexpected, practising across painting, sculpture, fashion, performance and installation. Maybe one of the first to take the step into the world of a visual artist, she is a woman who paved the way for the multidisciplinary artists who came after her, rebelling against the predefined notions of woman, culture, race and even artist. Kusama consciously railed against any box anyone attempted to place her in.
As Abstract exploded across New York, her infinity nets displayed a simplicity and beauty in a time that proceeded minimalism, taking on a scale she had not previously explored she worked tirelessly around the clock, landing her first solo show in 1959. These stunning pieces were at a scale that was encompassing, the viewer was confronted by these all-consuming works, that dominated space. Gracefully demanding attention using subtle texture and repetition en-mass to monopolise attention.
It was this leap into exhibition that began a cycle of plagiarism within the circles she moved. A friend, Andy Warhol notably “co-opted” her ideas of repetition on wallpaper, being frustrated at the lack of acknowledgement, she sank inward, papering studio windows, her surroundings echoed her mood as she guarded her work.
Then in 1965, she confronted the world with her first Infinity room. Using mirrors and soft dotted objects, she filled the space, enveloping the viewer in a never-ending sea of dots the experience was active, stripping the viewers' control. Yet less than two years later the concept was reimagined by Samaras, again without credit. Triggering a deep depression, she then attempted to take her own life.
In 1966 this beautifully rebellious artist took the step of exhibiting in the Venice Biennale, she did not let her lack of invitation to show at this prestigious event stop her, she instead showed narcissus garden, a critique of capitalism in art. In direct critique to the spirit of the event, she sold her mirrored orbs for a meagre two dollars. Obliterating the work slowly, as it was dismantled by the act of sale until the committee ejected her from the event.
Deemed to be an "aggressive self-premotor", Kusama's forward nature flew in the face of gender stereotypes. This was both a highly unusual trait for a woman of her time, but also deeply unpopular.
In 1967, her sense of protest came to the fore, with performance art utilised as a vehicle, her anti-war "atomic explosions" painting nude participants in polka dots the descended onto wall street to demand the recall of troops from Vietnam. Then in 1968, continuing protest through art, she formed the church of self-obliteration and officiated the first gay wedding. News of this broke in Japan, bringing shame to her family.
1973 marked her return to Japan, and the decline of her mental health, in 1977 she took the step of checking herself into a hospital in Tokyo, this is where she lives to this day. Obsessively working 9 hours each day in her studio. Here she lived quietly until 1989 when she was invited to do a retrospective by the centre for international contemporary arts, this throws her work back onto the international stage.
1993 she was finally invited to show at the Biennale, retracing the steps she was once banished from, she was welcomed with open arms.
Throughout the last few decades, her notoriety and profile grew. Surpassing many of those men who prayed on her unique vision and co-opted her concepts as their own. She has grown to shine as one of the most recognisable faces in the art world today. With her interactive work, obliteration currently showing until the 29th of August in the Tate Modern.
She is one of the most radical figures we have seen and is still working prolifically today, her works were designed to obliterate her inner thoughts, yet give us just a glimpse into the stunning mind of Kusama. Finding beauty in the infinity of repetition.
As homage to this incredible artist, we have for this piece taken brights from the G.F Smith Colorplan collection, trying to emulate her sense of play, we play. In colour and in scale.