Monday, September 10, 2018

Kusama: Infinity

Yayoi Kusama spent her life protesting the neglect of her art. In fact her body of work is in some way an expression of that neglect. At one point in her career she produced a film about herself called Self-Obliteration (1967) in which the signature Kusama dots seem to swallow up the artist. In l966 her famed “Narcissus Garden” was removed from the Italian exhibit of the Venice Biennale where she was bathing her body in a proliferation of mirrored spheres--emblematic elements of her sculptural style which she sold for a pittance. The protests became increasingly strident and provocative (often involving nude happenings in which she literally painted her subjects) and in some cases detracted from the seriousness with which her art was considered. However she ended up being honored by representing Japan with the country's first solo artist show at the Biennale, in l993. She's now the world’s most profitable and sought after female artist and the almost Orphic nature of her resurrection is an expression of the fantasy all artists dream of: a vindication and validation that tells the story of their plight. Heather Lenz’s Kusama: Infinity currently playing at Film Forum traces Kusama’s career from a rebellious childhood in the Japanese town of Matsumoto (where her father was a successful businessman) her early correspondence with Georgia O’Keefe and the fits and starts by which she attempted to gain a foothold in the male dominated New York art world of the 60’s, where she also formed a friendship with Joseph Cornell. To some extent her psychohistory is a little like that of Louise Bourgeois who like Kusama suffered from traumatic experiences growing up. Both found an artistic calling in the use of the soft sculptural form and sexual tropes that characterizd their works. Kusama's long struggle took its toll culminating in attempted suicide. Another fantasy that the film reveals is one that many patients as well as artists may share, that of wanting to move into their therapist’s home or office. In l977, after returning to Japan, Kusama found peace bunking up in the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill, not far from her Tokyo studio, where she continues to work today. 

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