A Selling Exhibition in Collaboration with Ota Fine Arts
Hong Kong - May 19 - 31, 2012
10:00am - 6:00pm
5th Floor One Pacific Place
Enquiries: +852 2524 8121
Sotheby’s is pleased to announce an exclusive selling exhibition of works by YAYOI KUSAMA in our brand new gallery space in Hong Kong. The exhibition showcases seminal works in a variety of mediums and from a range of important dates in the artist’s oeuvre.
Read an essay by David Elliott:
YAYOI KUSAMA: Hong Kong Blooms in My Mind
In August 1968, in New York, Kusama organised, with a troupe of nude dancers, the thirdAnatomic Explosion, a happening that took place just by the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park. As she pointed out in the Press Release for this event: “Like Alice who went through the Looking Glass, I, Kusama (who have lived for years in my famous, specially built room entirely covered by mirrors), have opened up a world of fantasy and freedom….You, too, can join my adventurous dance of life.” The many different mirrored rooms that Kusama has made from this time to the present enable us to enter, understand and enjoy Kusama’s world as we peer into or walk through her Looking Glass to perceive a completely different world.
And although she has suffered from psychiatric problems throughout most of her life, this world is a place of delight and wonderment as well as of redemption and escape. Kusama made one of her first environmental installations in March 1966 for an exhibition at the Castellane Gallery in New York.Kusama’s Peep Show, as the show was called, contained neither objects nor paintings but consisted of a mirror-lined hexagonal room animated by small red, green, blue and white light bulbs flashing in sequence. Viewers could see the work either from the outside through two sets of peep holes or become part of it by going inside and walking on the mirrored floor. In the endless kaleidoscopic reflections of this and other rooms, the figure of the individual is fragmented and dispersed as a precondition of its multiplication into infinity. For Kusama, the dissolution of the body into the environment that surrounds it was an act of love (the exhibition was subtitled Endless Love Show) and badges with the words “Love Forever” were handed out to the visitors.
The breaking down of the barrier between the individual and the world outside mirrors some of Kusama’s earliest memories which are also connected to her illness. As a young girl she remembers looking at her mother’s face and then seeing it covered by a pattern of dots and a number of her childhood drawings show dots or patterns superimposed over portraits, landscapes, flowers, vegetables, furniture – in fact everything. When she first started to work seriously as an artist in the early 1950s the dots, nets and patterns were assertively there, sometimes in connection with an abstract form but at others just floating in a mist and covering the whole surface of the work. Such strong feelings expressed through art, where nature penetrates into the core of the subject, are in line with the descriptions of Van Gogh and Edvard Munch about the alienation of their feelings in their work– but instead of a scream in the face of nature, Kusama’s work is more like an ecstatic hymn.
Kusama’s early dot and net paintings are remarkable in that they do not really relate to anything else that was being made in Japan at that time. If one has to look for similarities they can be found in the most advanced developments in New York where such Abstract Expressionist painters as Jackson Pollock were working over the whole surface of the canvas so that the traditional distinctions between figure and background were completely erased. Of course Kusama knew nothing of this at the time and was approaching her work from a completely different position.
When she moved from Japan to live and work in New York in 1958, the American artist with whom she had corresponded and respected the most was Georgia O’Keefe, by that time an elderly lady, relatively unconnected with the rapidly changing New York art world. O’Keefe had probably become an early role model because she was a successful woman artist who had transmuted natural forms into her painting, but she had no influence on Kusama’s work at this time where the significant change was one of scale. From the beginning of the 1950s American painting had become increasingly architectural. So, Kusama’s dots and nets now began to thread their way across canvases the size of walls and it was not long before these same patterns began, at first in her mind and subsequently in her work, to spread out onto the floor, over the ceiling, into the volume of the space itself, and then began to cover her own body.
Slowly at first, Kusama’s works began to make an impact in Europe and America and it never ceases to amaze me just how productive she was then and has continued to be. This impressive energy is partly fuelled by a strong – almost obsessive – sense of ambition but it is also characterised by an endless appetite for innovation. One has only to examine the different artists and curators who became interested in her work during the early 1960s: the emerging young generation of New York artists – so-called Minimalists like Donald Judd and Frank Stella – collected her paintings. In 1960 she was of only two American-based artists (the other was Mark Rothko) to be included, alongside Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein and Piero Manzoni, in a seminal exhibition of Monochrome Painting at the Städtisches Museum in Leverkusen in Germany. The following year in Amsterdam she showed in Nul, an equally important exhibition of the young avant-garde at the Stedeljik Museum. This included members of the Dutch Nul Group and German Zero Group who, because they made white objects using serially repeated elements in their work, saw Kusama as a natural soul mate.
From her earliest years, Kusama called the serial elements in her works Accumulations and her production of these intensified during the early 1960s. Sometimes these were made out of objects that she had acquired, like airmail stickers for envelopes, but increasingly they became phallic shapes: small cloth bags made with a sewing machine and stuffed with cotton. A pioneer of ‘soft sculpture,’ she named these phallic objects ‘Sex obsession’ and began to stick them onto all kinds of objects – from a painter’s canvas, to an arm chair, to a rowing boat, to a dress – again breaking down the boundaries between her imagination and the objective world. Exhibitions of her work such as ‘Sex Obsession’ and ‘Food Obsession’ became assemblages or installations of these many different objects and included fashion mannequins, phallus filled baskets and macaroni strewn floors. Although she was extremely successful in being exhibited in prestigious venues in America and Europe, she found it difficult to make a living from her work and perhaps this, as well as the militant anti-Vietnam War spirit of the time, led her in the direction of performances and happenings which sometimes took on the character of demonstrations. In the summer of 1967 she presented Self Obliteration by Kusama: An Audio-Visual-Light Performance at New York’s Black Gate Theatre which was followed by a series of open air Body Festivalsin which she painted polka dots on the bodies of members of the public as well as on herself and on the performers with whom she worked.
Although some of the work of this time has an anti-capitalist or anti-war character, Kusama could never really be described as a political artist and would strongly resist any such attempt. Neither did she affiliate herself with feminist art which was becoming increasingly important in America at that time. She promoted the cause of feminism in her performances and writing because she was a successful women artist and, at the same time, was also an advocate of Gay Rights. It is fair to say that Kusama’s main concern was and remains the liberation of the individual regardless of gender or politics, perhaps in an almost Buddhist sense, by transcending the objective world of desire to enter into a realm of freedom beyond the self.
Over the past two years Kusama has embarked on an ambitious series of new paintings, some of which are shown in her current retrospective at Tate Modern in London. They are characterised by a newly dynamic “primitivism” in form and colour, but their structure refers back to her desire to encompass infinity and through this a kind of universal love. Her most recent room installation Foot Prints to the Future 2012, made especially for the 1st International Biennale of Contemporary Art in Kiev (of which I am the Artistic Director), expands on this demandingly expansive leitmotiv. Although now in her early eighties, the innovation in Kusama’s work shows no sign of abating.
In this exhibition in Hong Kong Kusama blooms yet again! As ever, she creates an open invitation for us to join her “adventurous dance of life” – with the possibility of discovering for ourselves far more beyond.