yayoi kusama in london

i’m a huge fan of yayoi kusama. she was the subject of my dissertation, but only discovering her work recently meant i’d never had the chance to see it in the flesh.

the major show that just finished at victoria miro was over two sites, and while i only managed one (hoxton) it focused on her most iconic works – the mirror rooms and (new) infinity net paintings, as well as the pumpkins which now seem to stand in for the proliferating soft phalluses of her 1960s works, her current fecund obsession.

the logistics of a highly popular show featuring environments (as kusama termed her installations) that can only be experienced by a small number of people at a time made for a *lot* of queueing. but it was well organised and stewarded, as well as strictly timed. for this fangirl at least a half hour wait for 30 seconds in a mirror room seemed like an entirely fair swap 🙂

i didn’t want to spend too much time precious time taking pics, i tried to immerse myself as fully as i could in the mirror rooms, following the lights spinning away into dizzying infinity. but i doubt i’ll have another chance soon so at least one selfie was required.

i’d been expecting the rooms, and the giant bronze pumpkins – which are satisfyingly solid and grounded – but i wasn’t prepared to see any infinity net paintings. as far as i was aware her recent painting output was all in her more graphic style, deriving their energy from juxtaposition of vibrant colour and line, rather than the expressive textured surfaces of her early work. but (as far as i recall) the paintings on show were all recent, and included  several infinity nets.

a closeup of a white net. a black ground is lightly washed with white, showing the texture of the canvas, and overlaid with an endless series of tiny arcing strokes that meander and proliferate along the surface. this vigorous texture gives a great sense of movement, a sense of life, reaching to the edges of the canvas and threatening to escape beyond it (when kusama first painted her infinity nets in new york in the late 50s and early 60s she indeed continued the nets along walls, floors, windows, and even her own body, reflecting her mental turmoil of the time).

her use of this texture is even clearer in a multicoloured net painting. i love this piece for its combination of the net motif with subtle use of bold colours on the ground. the painting pulsates and vibrates like a living thing.

there was also a chance to see narcissus garden, which kusama famously installed in guerrilla fashion at the venice biennale (1966), scandalising the organisers by selling the mirrored spheres off piece by piece to the visiting public. the act was both commentary on the thinly-veiled commercialism underlying the international art trade, and an early demonstration of kusama’s canny approach to marketing and merchandising which has made her the highest earning female artist of all time.

the translation from lawn – as in venice – to pond was an inspired one. the movement of the mirrored spheres and the sound of that movement made for a transfixing, hypnotic experience; qualities evident in all of kusama’s best work.

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