Today, Yayoi Kusama is an art-world superstar, with museum-goers around the world lining up for hours for the chance to take photographs of—and with—her mirrored Infinity Rooms and polka-dotted pumpkins. And yet, the Japanese artist has lived in a mental hospital since the 1970s, suggesting an unseen dark side to her colorful universe. As a new documentary reveals, the road to success was a long and winding one that tested the artist’s drive, resiliency, and, ultimately, her sanity.
American interest in Asian art is at an all-time high after Yayoi Kusama’s hit ‘Infinity Mirrors’ exhibition. Guggenheim Museum Senior Curator Alexandra Munroe explores the diverse world of Asian Art in her video series ‘Eyes on Fire.’
The first time I saw Yayoi Kusama’s works was in 1986 at Tokyo’s Fuji TV Gallery.I had heard all about her 1960s New York period from other artists: how Donald Judd thought highly of her white Infinity Nets paintings, how she used to show up at openings wearing a Mylar kimono, and how her Happenings were every bit as important in the history of performance art as Carolee Schneeman’s Meat Joy.
It was 1990, and I was making a stop to see the new Yokohama Museum of Art on my regular rounds as an American curator of Japanese art. To my surprise, I was ushered into the vast office of the Director General and invited, point blank, to propose an exhibition for the museum like my recent Yayoi Kusama retrospective in New York. I paused. I was deep into researching a history of postwar Japanese avant-garde art, a topic so unknown in the west that I was rejected from graduate schools in art history before landing in the East Asian history department at NYU. The new museum, designed by Kenzo Tange, was advertised as the largest space for contemporary art in Japan. “I have an idea,” I heard myself saying. “How about a survey of the Japanese avant-garde, from Gutai to Dumb Type?” Taro Amano, who, in his early thirties, was a little older than me, jumped ahead of his elders with a prophetic, “Subarashii.Let’s do it.” I saw the galleries in my mind’s eye. “I would just like to be sure of one thing,” I said. “We will need to use the entire museum.”