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Extract: Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now

Posted on 11 Jan 2023

Curator Mika Yoshitake introduces 'Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now', the most comprehensive survey of the artist's work to date, exploring key themes of Kusama's work including infinity, accumulation and radical connectivity.

© YAYOI KUSAMA. Image courtesy of Benesse Art Site Naoshima. Photo: Shigeo Anzai.

There is perhaps no other global art icon like Yayoi Kusama. Her work has been the subject of numerous retrospectives, and yet her illustrious career, which has captivated millions, continues to offer a plethora of new and relevant discoveries. Over the past few decades, she has become one of the most sought-after artists in the world. With her patterned environments and immersive mirror rooms, her reputation and her collaborations with numerous fashion brands have contributed to her blockbuster status. Previous surveys have presented Kusama’s career from art-historical perspectives that situate her as a pioneer of various movements: Pop, Assemblage, Minimalism, Dutch Nul, the Zero group in Germany, environmental/installation art, performance, expanded cinema, and immersive art. While these approaches—the deep surveys and populist presentations—reflect the increasing notoriety and accessibility of her art with each passing decade, this retrospective looks to reconcile these two interpretative nodes. It additionally examines her work geopolitically, by considering a complex of Japanese, Chinese, and Euro American culturally specific contexts, through its presentation in Hong Kong. This volume also re-situates the philosophical impact of Kusama’s practice today in terms of a deeper awareness of life, mortality, and a form of healing in our COVID-19 age.

This publication considers Kusama’s career from 1945—a pivotal year for the genesis of her aesthetic interest in nature and cycles of life at the dawn of the post–Second World War era—to the present moment in 2022, marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice, and the existential threat of the climate crisis. This involves two complementary, chronological perspectives: the first tracks the linear evolution of six themes—infinity, accumulation, the biocosmic, radical connectivity, death, and force of life—over seven decades (diachronic), while the second examines the concurrence of these themes alongside historical-political events (synchronic). This dual approach allows for an organic complexity and revisionism that decentres Kusama from the mythic ideas that surround her, including dominant perceptions of singularity (i.e. an aesthetic of sole originality and uniqueness), solipsism (pathologising her mental illness as defining her artistic practice), and her status as a global pop icon (i.e. relegating the artist to a social-media phenomenon). These narratives have grown to obscure interdisciplinary themes and contexts that enrich her legacy. This retrospective aims to ground Kusama’s practice in the geopolitical and psychosocial realities of an individual who faced Japan’s totalitarian government in the 1930s, survived the Pacific War (1942–1945) and the US-led occupation of Japan (1945–1952), struggled for recognition in New York (where she lived from 1957 to 1973) during the height of the Vietnam War and civil rights movement, experienced the artistic and cultural effects of the bubble economy of the 1980s and 1990s, and has endured the existential fallout from natural disasters over the last two decades.


Extracted from Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now, published in collaboration with M+, Hong Kong, to accompany M+’s first Special Exhibition.

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