Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007
Kusama suffers from a chronic form of anxiety for which the determining symptom is also credited with the origin of her transgressive artistic vision: since childhood Kusama has been plagued by hallucinations in which she is overwhelmed by a profusion of dots, nets, or flowers that blanket her environment and threaten to envelop her. The effect on Kusama’s sense of an embodied self is annihilative. Referred to as ‘self-obliteration’, her grasp on reality disintegrates into a nothingness that is also perceived as an experience of infinity.
These troubling symptoms took root in the traumas of her childhood. Born into a wealthy land-owning family, Kusama grew up surrounded by flowers on the family’s plant nursery in rural Matsumoto. Her father was extravagant, philandering and increasingly absent, while the family business, into which he married, was ran by her domineering mother. Exacerbated by Kusama’s incessant ambition to become an artist, a profession deemed below the family seat and unsuitable for a woman, Kusama suffered bouts of verbal and even physical abuse at her mother’s hands. Indeed, the very first artistic occurrence of the Nets is particularly telling in this regard. Produced at the age of 10, a naïve pencil outline of a woman which the artist has identified as her mother is veiled in the speckled dot-like pattern that would later find replication in the seemingly infinite series of paintings to which the present work belongs.
However, in not wishing to over-determine a reading of her art purely in terms of psychobiography, it is the unique coalition of her psychological condition and the socio-political backdrop of the Twentieth Century that marks Kusama’s work as particularly groundbreaking. The psychological impact of familial turbulence was undoubtedly compounded within a threatre of war and its onslaught of collective trauma. The increasing militarisation of Japan during Kusama’s childhood – its totalitarian rule and later American occupation after the Second World War – was keenly felt by the artist; an empathy for political pathos that continued into Kusama’s anti-war Happenings towards the end of the 1960s and radical stance against phallocentric symbols - such as her Accumulation Sculptures in which everyday objects were covered in an obsessive profusion of stuffed fabric 'penises'. Couched in the formal language of coeval monochromism yet driven by marginality, Kusama’s visual economy of psychologically charged fragmentation and repetition has opened up radical new modes of subjectivity in art making.
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