Imagine a world where you are continuously confronted by shapes. Polka dots, to be precise. That’s how Japanese avant-garde artist Yayoi Kusama processes nearly everything, not by choice, but simply by design. “When I create my work, I am not forcing the polka dots into it.” It’s just how she sees things.
'PRAYING FOR WORLD PEACE IN THE SUNLIGHT', 2016, Yayoi Kusama, Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/ Singapore/ Shanghai © YAYOI KUSAMA
The woman best-known for her black spotted pumpkins, Dippin’ Dot-patterned walls and reflective installations has lived in a psychiatric hospital in Tokyo since 1977, when she voluntarily checked herself in for experiencing nervous disorders and hallucinations. From then onwards, the circular shapes became essential to her work, and an important part of the way she speaks about her practice. They’re just present. Perpetually.
'Infinity Mirror Room-Phalli’s Field', 1965, Yayoi Kusama © YAYOI KUSAMA
Her illness hasn’t kept Kusama from creating. The artist’s outspokenness about her state of mind has led her to embrace her condition, not parroting the played out romanticism of the ‘creative genius stemming from mental instability’ narrative. With incredible attention to detail, intentionality has become a hallmark of her reputation, and it’s one that has played out well throughout her career. In a survey done by The Art Newspaper in 2014, they found her exhibitions were the best attended globally, with installations and retrospectives like her A Dream I Dreamed and Infinite Obsession attracting over 2 million people. The highly photographable, immersive nature of her pieces make them easily accessible, a characteristic that contemporary art is often criticized for not having enough of.
Kusama with her new painting series " My Eternal Soul", 2012 ©️Yayoi Kusama
And it’s this same popularity and accessibility that led to a host of fake exhibitions across China, where Kusama was reported to be holding shows alongside Takashi Murakami, in a multi-city scam that culminated in legal action from both artists in 2018. “I was very disappointed that my creations, which I’ve devoted my entire life to, were plagiarized and exposed to everyone in an improper form,” says Kusama. Artists of her caliber go through intense processes to ensure quality control, and works that aren’t up to snuff either never leave the studio or are destroyed. In addition to having her creative rights infringed upon, knock-off works damage the overall brand – especially as Kusama’s revolves around attention to detail – having the ability to call into question what one can expect from the artist herself.
'WHITE RIVER FLOWING THROUGH', 2018, Yayoi Kusama, Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/ Singapore/ Shanghai © YAYOI KUSAMA
Which is part of the reason why she’s setting the record straight with an exhibition at the Fosun Foundation in Shanghai this month. All About Love Speaks Forever will feature over 40 of the artist’s works, including her ‘Infinity Mirrored Room,’ paintings from her latest series My Eternal Soul and a few large-scale reflective installations designed specifically for the Fosun Foundation space. “I have always felt close to China since my childhood, and I enjoy Chinese poems and literature, carrying a deep respect for them,” Kusama says of the reason for choosing Shanghai as the home for her new show. “I have heard that the art scene in Shanghai is quite exciting now, and that the audiences are enthusiastic.”
With works both inside and outside the museum, the expansive collection will give patrons and camera-happy snappers an opportunity to engage with her works as they’re meant to be experienced. While the rest of China might not be seeing spots anytime soon, until the beginning of June, Shanghai’s about to get much, much dottier.
[Cover photo courtesy of the PR]