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Yayoi Kusama : A Collector’s Guide

5 things you need to know about the crazy polka-dot lady, Yayoi Kusama.

Works featured on offer in West Chelsea Contemporary.

Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama is often considered an influence on Andy Warhol and a precursor to Pop art. Since her return to Japan in the 1970s, Kusama’s work has continued to appeal to the imagination and the senses, including dizzying walk-in installations, public sculptures, and the “Dots Obsessions” paintings. Kusama is most known for her works incorporating large scale environments, dense collections of polka dots and nets, and various colors which attract masses and are in high demand on the art market. Her work is not only for visual appeal, but also serves as therapy for the artist’s mental illness. 

Read on below to discover five things any art lover should know about Yayoi Kusama. 

  1. Art began as a self taught form of therapy for Kusama’s mental illness. When Kusama was in her adolescent years, she began to suffer from hallucinations. The origin of her mental illness is “depersonalization,” where one feels detached from themselves, regarding one’s mind or body. For Kusama, she would have recurrent visions of being in a field of flowers(dots) that consumed, or in her words, “self-obliterated,” her, erasing her into the overwhelming masses. At the time of her teenage years and growing up in a patriarchal family in a highly conservative area of Japan, mental health was a taboo and was not discussed or acknowledged. Art presented itself as an outlet for Kusama to release her emotions and what she would experience. Her paintings and works serve as an expression of her inner psychological world. One of her premier pieces, “infinity nets,” a series of hallucinatory paintings of loops and dots–and physical representations of the idea of infinity–were created during several nervous breakdowns. She receives inspiration from personal pain and therapy in her artistic expression, similar to Vincent Van Gough. She now resides in a psychiatric institute in Tokyo, where she famously checked herself into in the late 1970s, and continues to work on her art in her own studio across the street. 

“When I am in front of the canvas painting dots, I end up filling the table and the floor and even my own body. The net expands itself to infinity and I forget myself.”-Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama in her studio
  1.  Growing up in Japan, where radical gender roles dominated society, Kusama became a devote advocate of gender equality and a key feminist artist of our time. Even by becoming a Japanese artist, Kusama disregarded gender roles in a feminist spirit. Her family cut her off financially, forcing Kusama to forage for supplies and work 12 hour shifts at a parachute factory during the Pacific War. Georgia O’Keefe became a great inspiration for Kusama during this time, and later a friend who would persuade Kusama to move to the US. With more expressive freedom in America, Kusama used her work as introspection of her own sexuality, universal representation for women, and as a protest against sexism and gender roles.
  1. Kusama has her own five story gallery in Tokyo. Located in the western suburbs of Tokyo, Japan, Kusama’s gallery adds a generous splash of color to the area. Her trademark dots, lashed eye designs, and “infinity nets” fill the gallery. Upon opening, the museum attracted such large quantities of visitors that capacity restrictions had to be placed. Only 50 people are to be admitted four times a day for 90 minutes each. 
Yayoi Kusama in front of her work
  1. Kusama was named the world’s most popular artist in 2014 according to a survey of museum attendance. Kusama’s unique designs and instillations attract the masses to her incredible exhibitions. She is also in high demand on the art-market, with her art selling quickly and at a high price. During New York’s big fall auction week in 2014, 12 of her paintings sold in 72 hours, all meeting their reserves and many sold for higher. Her global appeal has allowed her to gain an incredibly high standing in the art world. She even has had two films made about her. In 1968, Kusama produced and starred in the film, “Kusama’s Self-Obliteration,” which won awards at the Fourth International Experimental Film Competition in Belgium, the Maryland Film Festival, and the Ann Arbor Film Festival. In 2008, documentary film, “Yayoi Kusama, I adore myself,” was released in Japan and also screened at various international film festivals and museums.
  1.  She loves pumpkins. Kusama has created many artworks that incorporate pumpkins, such as pumpkin sculptures and paintings, pumpkin infinity rooms, pumpkin charm bracelets and pumpkin polka-dot print shoes. She first began painting pumpkins at 10 years old as a psychological response to her hallucinations, where she would experience pumpkins speaking to her. As Kusama continued her art career, she also continued to use pumpkins as inspiration for her work. Kusama explained in a 2015 interview, “I love pumpkins because of their humorous form, warm feeling, and a human-like quality and form. My desire to create works of pumpkins still continues. I have enthusiasm as if I were still a child.” 
Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin (Yellow) print on cotton towel (2021) available at West Chelsea Contemporary.

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What’s on now at WCC:

West Chelsea Contemporary’s nearly 8,000 square-foot gallery offers the opportunity to highlight work on a monumental scale. From 16-foot originals by RETNA and Cey Adams to colossal sculptural work—including a larger than life mixed media shark and painted aluminum spaceman—the gallery is activated by art world giant’s not only in a metaphorical sense. 

By contemplating ground-breaking movements from the past six decades, Icons & Vandals allows viewers to rediscover and redefine the art world’s most iconic and contentious house-hold names. These artists have left their mark on the development and progression of contemporary art by subverting the norms of their own time.  Through this show it becomes clear that these two labels are not mutually exclusive but in fact ingrained in their interconnectedness. 

Works from ICONS & VANDALS will be on display and for sale at West Chelsea Contemporary in beginning May 15.

Reach out today to inquire or acquire.

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