This past weekend I had the opportunity to see the retrospective exhibition of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. The exhibit traveled from the Tate Museum in the UK, which curated and organized the show. It is on display now and will run until the end of September this year.
Kusama might very well be Japan’s foremost and most prominent contemporary artist. Her career took off in the 1960’s parallel to modern movements in Western art, and she boasts being contemporaries with the likes of Andy Warhol and Donald Judd. While many people around the world might know Warhol and Judd, there will certainly be a number of people who might be encountering Kusama for the first time during this show.
This is not surprising, considering that Kusama’ entire life and career seems to have been affected and literally dotted with her struggles. She came from a conservative, traditional Japanese family, that looked down on her creativity and shunned her desire to make art. As a woman, she was definitely considered as minority in her homeland– as well as in the United States of the 1960’s. As she struggled to promote her art overseas, her Asian heritage set her apart from the rest of her western contemporaries.
These struggles however are what enrich her art and give it a unique voice unlike any other. Her art allows you to take a glimpse into her mind, and showcases how it copes with the challenges it encounters. Each of her pieces is a rich composition that combines experience, imagination, and environment.
As an art history student I was introduced to Kusama’s work from a very specific period in her career, beginning with her breakthrough in the 1960’s. It was a rare opportunity to see her development as an artist as well as the struggles she encountered in order for her unique perspective and voice to be recognized.
What makes Kusama so unique is that she constantly, innately challenges boundaries, and these ideas and concepts all come from her fantastic imagination. She says in a documentary about her work, “I painted patterns from day to night. As I painted I suddenly would see the patterns spill out of the canvas and into the surrounding spaces. This is how I became an environmental artist.”
I unfortunately didn’t get the chance to see the famed Fireflies on the Water piece, one of Kusama’s immersive environmental pieces. Thankfully though the piece is on display longer than the exhibition as it is in the Whitney’s permanent collection, so I think I will definitely make an effort to go back and try to see it before it is put away again.