In her sixty-five-year-long career, Yayoi Kusama has pushed the boundaries of contemporary art in many directions. From paintings and sculptures to installations and performance art, Kusama's iconic artworks have made her one of the most well-recognised artists of the modern era.
She was born in 1929 in Matsumoto, Japan and from the age of 10, Kusama began to experience visual hallucinations. These flashing lights, dots and auras were frightening to the young child but went on to inspire the theme of "self-obliteration" in the artist's experiments with dots and illusions in her later artworks. When Kusama was 13, she went to work in a military factory, sewing parachutes for the Japanese army. The events of the Second World War had a strong impact on Kusama's childhood, and it was during this period that she began to value notions of personal and creative freedom.
In 1957, Kusama moved to New York City, where she met many of the city's avant-garde artists. New York's art scene inspired Kusama as she honed her unique artistic voice and soon her own artwork began to get noticed. She started to experiment with mirrors in her artworks, producing Infinity Mirrored Room—Phalli’s Field in 1965. This piece was made from stuffed cotton balls painted with red dots, arranged in a room surrounded by mirrors. The effect of the mirrors was to create an illusion of an infinite field of these phallic fabric tubers, which was simultaneously humorous and beautiful. The concept of infinity has been a central interest for Kusama and the idea comes up frequently throughout her work across media, suggesting to the viewer Kusama's experiences of vivid hallucinations.
In 1973, Kusama returned to Tokyo, Japan. Now 89 years old, she continues to produce art and in 2016, Time magazine named her one of the world’s most influential people.
This summer, the Cleveland Museum of Art is showing an exhibition that spans the range of Yayoi Kusama's career, featuring seven of her immersive, kaleidoscopic Infinity Mirror Rooms, the most ever shown together.