Self-dubbed “the modern Alice in Wonderland,” Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama is famed worldwide for her otherworldly, immersive “infinity room” environments and her uncanny ability to turn dots and pumpkins into a language unto themselves, both personally intimate and universal in their appeal.
Raised in Nagano, Kusama began to experience vivid hallucinations at a young age, including “dense fields of dots,” and these visions have informed her captivating works throughout a prolific career. Though trained in Japanese Nihonga painting at Kyoto City University of Arts, Kusama’s oeuvre moves through a wide variety of mediums and movements including sculpture and installation, performance, video art, fashion, and writing. When Kusama moved to New York in the late 1950s, she began to make soft sculpture and, in 1963, created her first of many Infinity Rooms – spaces which writer Priscilla Frank has described as “technically finite yet aesthetically fathomless.” It was also during the turbulent 1960s that Kusama would stage her most famous performances, happenings that frequently involved nudity in public places, such as the 1969 Grand Orgy to Awaken the Dead at MoMA, an unauthorized intervention staged in the sculpture garden of that institution.
Kusama’s struggles with mental health are widely documented, and she infamously has resided primarily at a psychiatric hospital since 1977. After a decade-long period of relative obscurity, Kusama and her work experienced a revival in the late 1980s that saw a multitude of retrospectives, commissions, and high-profile acquisitions, cementing her place as one of the most recognized contemporary artists today. In 2017, Kusama opened her own museum in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo with the mission to “share widely the message of world peace and love for humanity” that has fueled her visionary career.
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