1. Kusama has a life-long obsession with fashion
In the 1960s she launched her own label creating patterned avant-garde clothes and costumes that featured heavily in her performances and happenings, and more recently collaborated with French fashion powerhouse Louis Vuitton, for whom she used her signature polka dot motif to decorate their iconic monogrammed handbags.
2. She has spent the last 37 years in a mental health hospital
After her business as an art-dealer in Japan folded, Kusama began experiencing severe mental health problems and checked herself in to a Japanese hospital where she has lived since 1977. From there, she has continued to create art, publish novels and write poetry, while maintaining a studio near the hospital for her large scale installations.
3. She views her recent paintings as diary entries
When overcome with a nightmarish hallucination, Kusama sits down at a canvas and begins to document the vision, completing the work in one sitting. The series are always completed on the same size canvas and create a visual log of her obsessive thoughts. Despite their bright colours, the works have titles such as The Far End of my Sorrow and All About Joy that show how underneath, she is deeply troubled.
4. Her education makes her nauseous
She left home for Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts in 1948 and studied Japanese art under the traditional Japanese Master-Disciple system, which she found rigid and uninspiring. She refers to her time in Kyoto as making her want to vomit.
5. She refers to her polka dots as Infinity Nets
Since the age of ten, she has been obsessed with polka dots, covering at first her drawings, then later canvases, walls, household objects and even her assistants in them. She regards her mirrored rooms that are illuminated by hanging orbs as an extension of this – a type of immersive polka dot net that “obliterates” everything it covers through infinite space.
6. Georgia O’Keeffe was her business advisor
The famous flower-painting, female artist was business savvy and successful in the 1950s, and Kusama began writing to while in her 20’s asking for advice about how to succeed in the New York art scene. O’Keeffe even persuaded her own dealer to buy several of Kusama’s works when she was in a period of financial trouble due to being hospitalised from exhaustion.
7. In 1966 she was ejected from the Venice Biennale
At her first Biennale she exhibited her work Narcissus Garden, which consisted of hundreds of mirrored spheres that she began selling for $2 each while wearing a gold kimono – a comment on the commercialisation of art and self-promotion that didn’t sit well with the organisers of the Biennale and she was promptly escorted from the premises.
8. She is business-savvy and prolific
Kusama’s CV reads like a roll call of creative industries; she founded an erotic newspaper entitled Kusama’s Orgy, has published 8 novels, several books of poetry, designed a bus and has produced films – even making one with the English musician Peter Gabriel.
9. She has collectors frenzied
Kusama currently holds the record for the most expensive artwork sold at auction by a living female artist at $7.1 million in 2014 for White Net No. 28 (1960). O’Keeffe’s advice apparently paid off and Kusama has set a precedent for female artists in the 21st century.
10. Spots saved her life
A conversation about Kusama wouldn’t exist without mentioning spots, and Kusama claims neither would she – she said without her art she would have committed suicide a long time ago, and refers to her spots as the overwhelming power in her life – famously saying, “One day I was looking at the red flower patterns of the tablecloth on a table, and when I looked up I saw the same pattern covering the ceiling, the windows and the walls, and finally all over the room, my body and the universe. I felt as if I had begun to self-obliterate, to revolve in the infinity of endless time and the absoluteness of space.”
Yayoi Kusama quotes
I, Kusama, am the modern Alice in Wonderland.
My life is a dot lost among thousands of other dots.
I fight pain, anxiety, and fear every day, and the only method I have found that relieves my illness is to keep creating art. I followed the thread of art and somehow discovered a path that would allow me to live.
Every time I have had a problem, I have confronted it with the ax of art.
If it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago.
I wanted to start a revolution, using art to build the sort of society I myself envisioned.
My mother beat me and kicked me on the derriere every day, irritated that I was always painting…When I left for New York, my mother gave me $1,000,000 yen and told me never to set foot in her house again.
After all, well, moon is a polka dot, sun is a polka dot, and then, the earth where we live is also a polka dot.
My art originates from hallucinations only I can see. I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings. All my works in pastels are the products of obsessional neurosis and are therefore inextricably connected to my disease. I create pieces even when I don’t see hallucinations, though.
I want to become more famous, even more famous.
References and useful Resources
Yayoi Kusama's paintings
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