Painter, sculptor, filmmaker, and performer Yayoi Kusama (Japanese, b.1929) is a famously provocative avant-garde artist, best known for her works featuring repeating motifs and psychedelic imagery that evoke themes of psychology, feminism, obsession, sex, creation, destruction, and intense self-reflection. Kusama was born in Matsumoto City and began painting at the age of 10, as a means of escaping a childhood of neglect and expressing her early experiences with hallucinogenic visions. These apparitions consisted of dots and patterns enveloping her surroundings, suggesting issues of mental illness which have continued to strongly influence her work. Inspired by a letter she received from Georgia O’Keefe, Kusama moved to New York City in 1957 to pursue a career as an artist. Over the next decade she garnered a reputation as a controversial member of the New York avant-garde, first obsessively working on her series of Infinity Nets, paintings and sculptures featuring meticulous, seemingly endless repetitive motifs.
Over the next few years she also staged elaborate happenings throughout New York City, at one point breaking into the garden of the Museum of Modern Art to perform a happening with several naked assistants. She exhibited her work with Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and other prominent avant-garde artists throughout the 1960s, before returning to Japan in the early 1970s and living in a mental hospital, where she wrote surreal short stories and poems.
She later returned to her previous themes in painting and installation art, creating rooms full of mirrors reflecting her iconic polka dots and Infinity Nets in further meditations on repetition and obsession. After representing Japan at the Venice Biennale in 1993, Kusama’s work received newly heightened recognition from the international art world. She has been honored with the Ordre des Arts et Lettres from the French Ministry of Culture, as well as the Praemium Imperiale prize from the Japanese Art Association. In recent years she has created large public sculptures on commission, and has made several films and documentaries, the most recent released in 2008. The same year, Kusama became the best-selling living female artist, with works breaking record prices at auction. She currently lives and works in Tokyo.
Hee Jung Yi