Image: Yayoi Kusama, The Spirits of the Pumpkins Descended into the Heavens 2017. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts and Victoria Miro
Queen of Colour, Princess of Polka Dots, Yayoi Kusama is probably the most famous artist alive today. Her nine decades have taken her from an interwar, conservative childhood in middle-class Tokyo to the New York art scene— in the company of Andy Warhol, Donald Judd, Joseph Cornell, and Claes Oldenburg —and back to contemporary Tokyo, where she famously had a breakdown and has voluntarily chosen to live in a psychiatric unit since 1977.
Image: Yayoi Kusama in 2013. Photograph: Mike Segar. Courtesy of Reuters
Her long career has seen her experiment in a variety of media, producing ambitiously scaled paintings on canvases and bodies, drawings, hard and soft sculptures, film, performance, and immersive installations. She has employed paper, skin, fabric, and light, amongst other materials. But her work is united by her use of colour and, of course, by those famous patterns and polka dots that replicate the anxiety-induced visual migraines she has experienced since childhood.
Image: Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin. 2018. Photograph: Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts and Victoria Miro
But you already know all of this.
The year-long exhibition of her Infinity Mirror Rooms, at the UK’s Tate Modern until 2 April 2023 offers the opportunity to experience it, through immersive works such as Chandelier of Grief, and Filled with the Brilliance of Life.
Image: Yayoi Kusama, Filled with the Brilliance of Life. 2011/2017. Photograph: Eduardo Ortega/Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts and Victoria Miro
Although the works are spectacular, reviews have been mixed, with influential liberal arts broadsheet, The Guardian, suggesting the exhibition might be a victim of its own success as visitor numbers prevent any lingering engagement with the works. In response, Tate Modern extended the exhibition run.
Image: Chandelier of Grief 2016/2018. Photograph: Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy Ota Fine Arts and Victoria Miro.
Deeply engaging, though, is the charming short film Tate Modern have released to accompany the show. Kusama: Obsessed with Polka Dots, directed by Heather Lenz, is taken from Kusama Infinity: The Life and Art of Yayoi Kusama (Dogwoof, 2018) and features interviews with the artist as she goes about creating her works.