Tate presents a rare chance to experience two of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms. These immersive installations will transport you into Kusama’s unique vision of endless reflections. Kusama has always had an interest in self-presentation, and her photographic archive shows how much she has enjoyed finding a personal ‘look’ to suit each body of work. Even today, Kusama still displays her keen and unique fashion sense.
Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist who is sometimes called ‘the princess of polka dots’. Although she makes lots of different types of art – paintings, sculptures, performances and installations – they have one thing in common… DOTS!
Our earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos. Polka dots are a way to infinity. When we obliterate nature and our bodies with polka dots, we become part of the unity of our environment, says Kusama.
In her early years in the United States, Kusama dressed formally for her private views and wore kimonos she had brought from Japan. She periodically returned to this Eastern style of dress. In 1966 Kusama made her slide work Walking Piece. The artwork records the artist walking through New York in a pink flower-print kimono. In this piece, Kusama self-consciously uses the kimono to position herself as a creative outsider in the middle of an unfriendly, alien city. More typically during this period, however, Kusama displayed herself in Western clothes that complimented the work she was producing. We can see how her style of dress changed from the prim, monochrome suits and dresses she wore with her similarly stark, monochrome Infinity Net paintings, to the red leotards and catsuits she wore in her red-and-white installation Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli’s Field.
In the late 1960s, Kusama set up her own fashion company. Many of the clothing designs were daring and featured strategically-placed holes which revealed the wearer’s breasts, buttocks or genitalia. For her Homosexual Wedding performance in 1968, she designed an ‘orgy’ wedding dress for two people. By 1970 she was producing similar garments that could accommodate several people. For herself, she designed a Phallic Dress, its bright pink surface enhanced by numerous sewn stuffed fabric phallic bumps. In recent years Kusama has continued to design her own clothes, using patterns from her paintings on bespoke fabric. She often compliments her outfits with brightly coloured wigs to complete the distinctive ‘Kusama look’.
Self-representation is an important aspect of Kusama’s practice. She is immortalising her own image by harnessing the power and potential of fashion. Not only in terms of making herself recognisable but in realising that having other people walk around in your designs is one of the best forms of advertising, says, Katy Wan
In New York, Kusama was part of an important network of artists who were redefining what art could be. She was a close friend of Joseph Cornell and Donald Judd whose studio was just above hers, and who was one of her first US collectors, and a contemporary of Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg.
There are arguments that her work has anticipated some of the practices of other, better-known artists, Katy says. Like Oldenburg, in terms of her innovations in soft sculpture which pre-dated his, and Warhol, in the form of the repeat motifs on wallpaper. Her use of repetition preceded Andy Warhol’s by about three years and, as a woman working in the male-dominated art world at that time, that’s really remarkable.
Throughout her career, Kusama’s work has been intuitive. She creates work based on her own psychological experiences and uses her art to come to terms with her compulsions and her visions.
It’s been said that she doesn’t have to draft out her paintings before committing them to canvas, Katy explains. She is portraying exactly what she sees in her field of vision.
Colour plays an important role in Kusama’s work. Her vibrant use of colour counterbalances her often serious subject matter. Take for example her ongoing My Eternal Soul series – bold, bright and often surreal paintings of faces and other sometimes threatening abstract forms, which demonstrate an intuitive approach to figurative art-making. Kusama’s self-belief crops up throughout her practice. When things don’t turn out the way she wants, she makes them happen. In 1966 she wasn’t officially invited to participate in the 33rd Venice Biennale an international exhibition that takes place every two years, so she staged an unofficial performance, installing a sea of silver globes on the lawn in front of the Italian Pavilion.
For the piece, which she called Narcissus Garden, the artist stood among the spheres wearing a gold kimono with a sign that read “Your Narcissism for Sale.” Viewers could buy the globes for 1,200 lire (about $2) each.
Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life is one of Kusama’s largest installations to date and was made for her 2012 retrospective at Tate Modern. It is shown alongside Chandelier of Grief, a room that creates the illusion of a boundless universe of rotating crystal chandeliers.
Tate showcases a small presentation of photographs and moving image – some on display for the first time – provides historical context for the global phenomenon that Kusama’s mirrored rooms have become today.
Step inside and experience the illusion of a boundless universe of rotating crystal chandeliers today!
Dates: 18 May 2021 – 12 June 2022
£10 / Free with ticket for Members
£5 for Tate Collective.
For more information and ticket bookings, visit www.tate.org.uk