1929 · Japan
Known for her obsession with polka dots, Yayoi Kusama is one of the most popular and original artists of today. She works across a wide variety of media including painting, drawing, sculpture, film, performance and immersive installation whilst forever maintaining her signature style, and has sustained a prolific career spanning multiple decades.
Born in Matsumoto, Japan in 1929, Kusama had a troubled childhood. Her abusive mother discouraged her to pursue art and her father was a womaniser, which ultimately led Kusama to have an aversion to sex and the male body. However she pursued an artistic career by training at the Kyoto School of Arts and Crafts studying traditional Japanese painting, but became enamoured with the American movement of Abstract Expressionism. She moved to New York City in 1958, and soon became a prominent figure in the avant-garde art scene and the Pop Art movement. She gained notoriety by staging a number of ‘Happenings’ involving naked participants and through her creation of works involving phallic forms. She has enjoyed a prolific career since the 1970s, but having dealt with mental health issues, she has since moved back to Japan and voluntarily lives at Seiwa psychiatric hospital. She continues to paint and create to this day in her studio nearby, using her art as a way to express her mental health.
Kusama’s signature use of repetitive and obsessive dots stems from her use of drawing patterns as a coping mechanism during her abusive childhood, and from hallucinations she has described as "flashes of light, auras, or dense fields of dots" that she has experienced since a young age. She is perhaps today most well known for her immersive Infinity Mirror rooms which make use of mirrors, lights and water to create the illusion of infinite space, whilst exploring ideas of life and death and forcing viewers to analyse their place in the environment. Her forays into sculpture are equally as recognisable and include dot covered soft pumpkin sculptures which have now become an iconic example of her work. Her idiosyncratic style was initially a way for Kusama to express her own internal thoughts, but through her work she intends to share these thoughts and experiences with the wider world.
Kusama continues to be one of the most popular artists working today, and her work garners a great deal of popularity on social media due to its fun and dazzling aesthetics. In recognition of her importance as an artist, the Yayoi Kusama Museum opened in Tokyo in 2017, and she continues to exhibit in notable institutions around the world, including the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, the Gagosian Gallery in New York, and at the Tate Modern gallery in London, which will hold a yearlong display of her Infinity Mirror rooms in 2020.