Labelled as “the world’s most popular artist” in 2015, Avant-garde Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama continues to astonish the contemporary art world. Very well known for her trademark polka dot pumpkins to her famous mirror and light Infinity Rooms, the artist continues to elevate the experience through her artwork for her audiences globally. 

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Yayoi Kusama_©Tokyo Lee Productions, Inc. Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Kusama blends and transforms the aesthetics and ideas of many late twentieth-century movements, including Pop Art and Minimalism, without ever having just a linear approach. In the 1980s and 1993, she conducted a series of breakthrough demonstrations at the Museum of Modern Art and the 45th Venice Biennale. This ground-breaking artist continues to display her timeless works all over the world, retaining a strong and dominant position in the contemporary market.

Here are the 10 beautiful artworks by Yayoi Kusama:

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1. Infinity Nets (1979)

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Infinity Nets 1979 ©Sotheby’s

The “Infinity Nets,” a series that, though far limited ornate in its form, expressed on related themes of her work. The paintings seem to imply the move toward Minimalism and, later, Post-Minimalism during the ’60s and ’70s. The artwork has a lot to do with Kusama’s childhood hallucinations of dots and recurring patterns. Kusama once said she doesn’t consider herself as an artist; she pursues art to correct the disability that began in her childhood, in turn referring to her mental illness. 

2. Accumulations (1962)

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Accumulation (1962 – 1964) ©Yayoi Kusama

The 1960s “Accumulations” works helped Kusama’s recurring art forms achieve their highest expression. They often featured canvases and objects that were cluttered with recurring optical motifs. Egg cartons were used to create rows and rows of hump-like structures in the artworks. Sculptures utilising ready-made objects ornated with phalli, however, brought the series to a high point.

Kusama later explained, “As an obsessional artist I fear everything I see”. Further describing, Accumulation No. 1 is a manifestation of not only her obsessive-compulsive disorder but additional psychological forces like sexual anxieties. 

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3. Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli’s Field (1965)

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Yayoi Kusama, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk ©Yayoi Kusama

Kusama established the first of her now-famous captivative environments. In 1965, Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli’s Field (Floor Show) combined her interests in reoccurring forms, sexual exploration, psychology, and perception. The 25-square-meter mirrored room is roughly filled with a thick carpet of soft, twisting phalluses concealed in the artist’s trademark expression of polka dots. 

Alongside, wearing a red one-piece suit, she stands in frame with her arms behind her head and her stolid eyes staring into the background. Kusama created an artist portrait like this one as something similar to the artworks themselves.

4. Narcissus Garden (1966)

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Yayoi Kusama at Venice Biennale 1966  ©Yayoi Kusama

At the 33rd Venice Biennale in 1966, 1,500 shimmering balls formed an infinite reflective field in which the artist’s, visitors’, architecture, and landscape images were repeated, distorted, and projected by convex mirror surfaces that created virtual images that appeared closer and smaller than reality.

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Despite the fact that Kusuma was not invited to the show, her book states that the chairman of the Biennale Committee gave her permission to display 1,500 mass-produced synthetic silver-plated globes on the lawn outside the Italian Pavilion. Narcissus Garden, Kusama’s 1966 work, has been seen as both self-promotion and a protest against the commercialization of art in different ways.

5. Walking Piece (1966)

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Slide projection of Walking Piece 1966  ©Yayoi Kusama Courtesy of zero focus

In the year 1966, Kusama established her identity as a Japanese immigrant and an artist by wandering the gloomy, desolate streets of New York in a hot-pink flowered kimono and wielding a false flower-adorned parasol.

The exquisite kimono contrasts with and accentuates the brutal, commercial, alienating side of the metropolis, according to the Whitney Museum. “At home in Japan, Kusama’s chosen way of dress had been continuously modern,” the author writes. In New York, she would sometimes dress in traditional Japanese garb to emphasise her status as an outsider.

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6. Antiwar Works (1968)

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Yayoi Kusama at Brooklyn Bridge 1968  ©Yayoi Kusama Courtesy of David Zwirner

Kusama’s political consciousness has always been strong. She held naked demonstrations in New York during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Kusama staged her first Anatomic Explosion outside the New York Stock Exchange to oppose the war. “The money produced with this stock is enabling the fight to continue,” Kusama claimed in a press statement, “We oppose the war establishment’s cruel and selfish instrument.”

7. Obliteration Room (2002)

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Obliteration Room 2002  ©Natasha Harth ©QAGOMA
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Obliteration Room 2002 Natasha Harth ©QAGOMA

The Obliteration Room begins as a blank canvas, It is set up to follow the interior of a home environment, the walls, ceiling, floor, furniture and little knick-knacks are all painted sterile white. Visitors to the room are given a sheet of round stickers in Kusama’s chosen shapes and sizes, which they are encouraged to stick to any surface in the space. Finally, a pop of colourful dots obliterates the immaculate room with the furnishings.

Children are urged to violate the “look but don’t touch” policy of art museums, which Kusama outlines as parental restrictions. The interactive installation was the first time Kusama moved away from producing a passive environment to producing an environment in which its realization compelled cooperation from visitors.

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8. Dots Obsession (2003)

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Dots Obsession 2003  ©Yayoi Kusama

Kusama’s Dots Obsession installation project includes her signature polka dots and mirrors, as well as massive, amorphous inflatable things in response to specific locations. With recurrent patterns, the installation visually approximates the delusion Kusama purportedly had as a youngster. The artist’s painstaking attention to establishing space through colour and form, as well as the play of light and perspective created by duplicating a few simple tools, is evident in the artwork.

9. Pumpkin (2010)

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Kusama with Pumpkin, 2010  ©Yayoi Kusama

Kusama’s well-known pumpkins have become a part of popular culture and modern art. It has certainly made her one of the world’s most expensive living female artists. In pre-war Japan, where her family operated a plant nursery that cultivated kabocha squash, the artist began drawing pumpkins as a child. Pumpkins are warm and amusing motifs for her, with human-like forms at times.

Kusama’s obsession only grew with time and it has become her signature dotted pumpkins. Since then, it’s emerged as works on paper, handheld figurines, colossal sculptures, and immersive infinity room installations by the artist.

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10. Infinity Mirrored Room, The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away (2016)

Infinity Mirrored Room, The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away 2016  ©Yayoi Kusama

Kusama began working on her Infinity Mirror Room series in the 1960s and has since completed twenty different rooms. Infinity Mirrored Room, The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away is the most recent instalment in the series. Within this dark chamber-like space entirely panelled with mirrors, the room consists of small LED lights suspended from the ceiling and flickering in a rhythmic pattern creating pulsing electronic polka dots. 

An illusion of endless space is created by the light reflecting off the mirrors in the intimate room. Kusama encourages the visitors to contemplate their existence. The artist’s astronomical work highlights the interconnectedness we have to each other and the universe.

References

Artsy. 2021. Artsy – Discover & Buy Art. [online] Available at: <https://www.artsy.net/> [Accessed 23 June 2021].

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Qagoma.qld.gov.au. 2021. Yayoi Kusama – QAGOMA. [online] Available at: <https://www.qagoma.qld.gov.au/whats-on/exhibitions/past-exhibitions/yayoi-kusama> [Accessed 23 June 2021].

The Art Story. 2021. Yayoi Kusama Artworks & Famous Art. [online] Available at: <https://www.theartstory.org/artist/kusama-yayoi/artworks/> [Accessed 23 June 2021].

The Museum of Modern Art. 2021. Yayoi Kusama | MoMA. [online] Available at: <https://www.moma.org/artists/3315> [Accessed 23 June 2021].

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Whitney.org. 2021. Yayoi Kusama. [online] Available at: <https://whitney.org/exhibitions/yayoi-kusama#:~:text=Well%20known%20for%20her%20use,%2C%20performance%2C%20and%20immersive%20installation.> [Accessed 23 June 2021].

Author

Spoorthi Nagaraj is a freshly graduated architect who is intrigued about urban studies and sociology. She is an architect by the day and a writer by the night. Her passion towards equity, resilience and sustenance is what flows through the content she writes.

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