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! SELF DESTRUCTION IS THE ONLY WAY OUT : THE CONSTRUCTION OF AN OBLITERATED SELF IN THE WORK OF YAYOI KUSAMA BY IRINI ZERVAS A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship o f Dr. Cris Hassold Sarasota, Florida May 2013
! ACKNOWLEDGMENTS First and foremost, I want to thank my parents and other family members for supporting me throughout this process. You have always challenged me to work to the best of my abilities and taught me to expect the best from myself. I am so grateful for your continued love and support. Thank you to Dr. Cris Hassold for opening up the world of Art History to me. I am eager to continue my studies in the next chapter of my life, and would not be where I am today without the passion you instilled in me for art. Many thanks to my othe r committee members who aided in my research and have provided me with outlets for further study Lastly, the New College c ommunity has afforded me an extraordinary environment for my studies and many opportunities for personal growth I cannot express the awe I've felt being around such intelligent and inspiring classmates, and will be forever grateful for the chance to live in this community. A big thank you to all my friends who were, and w ill remain a part of it.
""" TABLE OF CONTENTS Acknowledgements............................................................................................................. .ii List of Illustrations ............ ..... .............................................................................................iv Abstract................................... ..... ....................................................................... ............... vi Introduction : Backgrou nd on the Artist.................................... .. ........................................1 Reinscribing Past as Present: Early Paintings, Infinity Nets and Gesture ... ...................... 10 The Accumulations: Pop Made Personal. .......... ...............2 3 Documentary photos, Installations and Public Persona as Strategy and Concept. 32 Conclusion .................................................................................................................. .. .... 44 Figures.. ............................................................................................................ .... ... 48 Bibliograp h y .................. ...................................................................................... .... ........ 62
"# LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS FIGURE 1. Hosoe, Eikoh Infinity Mirror Room (Phalli's Field) 1965. Sewn stuffed fabric, mirrors, 11.8 x 11.8 x 10.6 ft. Installation, Yayoi Kusama's Floor Show', Castellane Gallery, New York. Image source: Hoptman, Yayoi Kusama 2000. 2. Kusama, Yayoi. Untitled 1966. Photocollage, 8 x 10 in. Ota Fine Arts. Image source: website of the Whitney Museum of Art. 3. Kusama, Yayoi. Accumulation of Corpses (Prisoner Surrounded by the Curtain of Depersonalization) 1950. National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. Image source: website of the Tate Modern. 4. Kusama, Yayoi. Lingering Dream 1949. P igment on paper, 53.75 59.75 in. Collection of the artist. Image source: website of the Whitney Museum. 5. Kusama, Yayoi. God of the Wind 1955. Image source: Francis Morris, Yayoi Kusama 2012. 6. Kusama, Yayoi. Phosphorescence in the Day c. 1950. Image source: Francis Morris, ed., Yayoi Kusama 2012. 7. Kusama, Yayoi. Germ ,1952. Image source: Francis Morris, Yayoi Kusama 2012. 8. Kusama, Yayoi. No. D. (detail), 1959. Oil on Canvas, 35. X 28. In. Collection of the Donald Judd Estate. Image source: Thomas Frick, ed., Yayoi Kusama 1998. 9. Kusama, Yayoi. Pacific Ocean 1960. Oil on Canvas, 72 x 72. in Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. Image source: Thomas Frick, ed., Yayoi Kusama 1998. 10. Kusama, Yayoi. film still from Kusama's Self Obliteration 1967. Film. Image source: arttattler.com 11. Kusama, Yayoi. still from Kusama's Self Obliteration, 1967. Film. Image source: dontpaniconline.com 12. Kusama, Yayoi. Accumulation no. 1 1962. Sewn stuffed fabric, paint, fringe on chair frame. 37 x 39 x 42 in. Beatrice Perry Family Collection. Image source: Francis Morris, e d., Yayoi Kusama 2012.
# $%& Kusama, Yayoi. Accumulation no. 2. 1962. Sewn stuffed fabric, paint on sofa frame. 35 x 88 x 40.25 in. Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College. Image source: Francis Morris, ed., Yayoi Kusama 2012. 14. Kusama, Yayoi. Documentary i mage from the Green Gallery Show, 1962. Photograph. Image source: website of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. 15. Warhol, Andy. Marilyn Monroe Diptych, 1962. Acrylic on canvas, 80.9 114 in. The Tate Britain. Image source: website of the Tate Modern. 16. Kusama, Yayoi. Untitled Accumulation 1964. Sewn stuffed fabric, ten pairs of women's shoes, paint, variable dimensions. Retrospective at the Whitney, 2012. Anzai Art Office Inc. Image source: wnyc.org. 17. Kusama, Yayoi. Baby Carriage 1964 6. Sewn stuffed fabric, baby carriage, stuffed toy kangaroos, paint. 38 x 23.25 x 40 in. The Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Image Courtesy of Thomas Frick, ed., Yayoi Kusama 1998. 18. Kusama, Yayoi. Installation view, Driving Image Show 1964. Variable dimensions. Castallane Gallery, New York. Image source: Lynn Hoptman, ed., Yayoi Kusama 2000. $'& Kusama, Yayoi. Untitled (Kusama in her New York Studio), 1958 9. Photograph. Image source: Francis Morris, ed., Yayoi Kusama 2012. 20. Kusama, Yayoi. Untitled 1959. Photograph. Stephen Radich Gallery, New York. Image source: artnet.com. ($& Kusama, Yayoi. Untitled ( Kusama in front of her 33 foot white Infinity Net painting), 1959. Photograph. Image source: Francis Morris, ed., Yayoi Kusam a 2012. 22. Kusama, Yayoi. Untitled Exhibition poster, Driving Image Show 1964. Image source: NCF MDID. 23. Kusama, Yayoi. Installation view, Kusama's Peep Show or Endless Love Show 1969. Image source: NCF MDID. ()& Kusama, Yayoi. Untitled 2012. Photograph. Image source: website of the Whitney Museum of Art, New York. (*& Kusama, Yayoi. Untitled 2012. Photograph. Image source: NCF MDID. (+& Kusama, Yayoi. Untitled 2012. Photograph of Kusama's Louis Vuitton press conference. Image source: website of Louis Vuitton.
#" SELF DESTRUCTION IS THE ONLY WAY OUT!': THE CONSTRUCTION OF AN OBLITERATED' SELF IN THE WORK OF YAYOI KUSAMA IRINI ZERVAS New College of Florida, 2013 ABSTRACT Yayoi Kusama's consciousness is pervaded with her desire for "self obliteration," a process in which the self becomes one with her surroundings. She creates art in order to mitigate this fixation with death and alienation. Kusama's art practice reflects he r personal life through a number of themes, motifs and practices: art creation as therapy, the obsessive repetition of dots, and the artist's manufacture of a unique public persona. However, while Kusama's art represents and works through her personal suff ering, it also reflects the idea of self obliteration. Kusama performs a split sense of self that is in parallel with the multiplication of objects and patterns present in her work. This essay is framed by the concern particularly in feminist art history, with how to relate an artist's biography to his or her work. While Kusama's art practice relies heavily on her biography in its elicitation of her mental illness, it also emphasizes the constructedness of her personal narrative. Through a study of the art ist's photographs and documentary images of the artist's body, Amelia Jones asserts that Kusama's art exhibits an excess of identity while disallowing the notion of a stable sense of self. I wish to extend Jones' argument to Kusama's other work and to her process based art. At once
#"" non figurative and impersonal and representing the artist's history, Yayoi Kusama's work challenges dominant modes of artistic creation and visual experience. Dr. Cris Hassold Division of Humanities
$ Introduction Background on the Artist Yayoi Kusama's work is often related to the genre of "Art Brut," otherwise known as "raw art" or "Outsider Art The term began to be used in the mid 1940s as a means of designating artists who operate outside of the fine art w orld. According to Jean Debuffet's definition, artists in this category have not attended traditional fine arts schools and have been insulated from dominant artistic trends and historical models. The artists are treated as creating work for the sake of cr eation itself, motivated by internal inclinations rather than external cultural or monetary aims. Many have frequently suffered trauma and turn to art practice as a form of therapy. They often diminish the importance of subject matter to the act of repetit ively proliferating forms. Indeed, Debuffet was originally inspired by mental patients' drawings he saw while in a mental hospital in Switzerland. 1 Like many outsider artists, Kusama professes that her own interior imagination and individual experiences form the basis of her work. Central to this theme of the artist's deep personal connection with her work is her mental illness, diagnosed as both Obsessional Neurosis and Depersonalization disorder. 2 Kusama is obsessed with concepts of accumulation, repeti tion, obliteration and infinity. The artist speaks about her desire for what she terms "self obliteration," which is accomplished by the self becoming one with her surroundings and losing her sense of subjectivity. 3 This phenomenon can be !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 1. Oxford Art Online 2012. "Art Brut." 2. Laura Hoptman, Akira Tatehata and Yayoi Kusama, Yayoi Kusama (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2001), 16. 3. Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011) 46; Damien Hirst and Yayoi Kusama, Across the
( described as a ch aracteristic of psychosis, in which the boundaries between internal and external worlds are dissolved or become unstable. 4 Yayoi Kusama has certainly not been entirely isolated from the art world. Her work may be characterized as "outside" the art world in the sense that it does not fit seamlessly into any particular movement. She claims to reject external critiques from the media. Kusama also denies the influence of other artistic genres or of outside influences in general. However, Kusama did complete one year of art school, was greatly interested in modern art movements, and lived and worked with contemporary artists while in New York. Due to deteriorating mental and physical health, in 1977 Kusama committed herself to a mental institution outside of T okyo. She resides at this location today and has a studio a few blocks away where she works. Characterization of Kusama's art as "Outsider Art" limits the degree to which she can be considered a formidable talent and creative rival to her contemporaries. F or example, even prior to her arrival in the United States, she was savvy enough to contact Georgia O'Keeffe as a means of establishing a network in North America, and persuasive enough to elicit regular correspondence from the well connected artist. 5 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!! Water: with Dam ien Hirst (extract) 1998 Hoptman, ed. 136. I define "subjectivity" as the artist's means of experiencing and relating with the world. This material is provided to me by the artist's autobiography, Infinity Net as well an interview with the artist. Subject ivity takes on a particularly sensory dimension for Kusama, as her art is her means of communication with the world. 4. Whitney Chadwick and Catherine M. De Zegher, Inside the Visible: An Elliptical Traverse of 20 th century Art in, of and From the Feminin e (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996), 159. 5. Yayoi Kusama and Lynn Zelevansky, Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama 1958 1968 (Los Angeles: LA County Museum of Art, 1998), 22.
% Ra ther than characterize Kusama's work neatly into particular movements, I instead draw connections between her work and that of her contemporaries. Kusama's art does not exist "outside" the gallery world but rests at the margins of established definitions. Kusama's knowledge of the work of her contemporaries informs her practice. At the same time, she seeks to position herself as an "other" to the art world. This essay discusses the artist's tendency to subsume her life into her art while drawing attention t o her personal struggles and characteristics. While the artist does not claim to be a feminist or advance feminist goals in this process, many scholars identify her work as treating the body and identity as contested ground. As such, she is frequently co nsidered a feminist body artist in her reliance on her own corporeality and femininity. The 1990s rediscovery of female artists, including Kusama, also served to link her with other women artists who frame their art practice with issues of the body. Kusama is often discussed in relation to female performance artists who deal specifically with body poli tics, such as Carolee Schneeman, Hannah Wilke, Marina Abramovi Yoko Ono and Ana Mendieta. 6 Although Yayoi Kusama does not overtly manipulate her body, she o ften stands or lies next to her work or collages herself within it. In Infinity Mirror Room (Phalli's Field) 1965 (Fig. 1) she physically links herself with her art by standing within it. Her Installations advance the idea of the body's interaction with the art object Because she collapses her identity with that !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 6. Amelia Jones, Body Art: Performing the Subject (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1998) ; Rosemary Betterton, An Intimate Distance: Women, Artists, and the Body (London: Routledge, 1999) ; Sue Case, Philip Brett, and Susan Leigh Foster, Decomposition: Post Disciplinary Performance (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000) ; Whitn ey Chadwick, Catherine De Zegher, J.F. Rodenbeck et al, Inside the Visible: An Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of, and From the Feminine (Cambridge: The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston & MIT Press, 1996).
) pictured in her images, Yayoi Kusama's work is often situated as dealing with an essentializing stereotype of the female figure or of femininity more generally. This simple association is problem atic in that it reduces Kusama's art to merely the product of a gendered body; in this reading, the complexities of the creator's identity are obscured. On the other hand, scholars have tended to drastically limit use of the artist's biography in their interpretations of her work. In fact, it was not until Kusama's multi continent retrospective, in 2012, that British and North American scholars have extensively considered the influence of her pre New York paintings (Figs. 3 7 ) on her later work. At the s ame time that Kusama's work alludes to femininity, for e xample in her documentary photo Untitled 1966 (Fig. 2), the artist vigorously limits the degree to which the body, or her body, can be fully read and consumed by the viewer. One way in which she does so is to proclaim "self obliteration" the deliberate erasure of the self. The artist is known for being cryptic in her public speech, frequently returning to familiar words and phrases that obscure a notion of an identity existing outside of the artist's art practice; she is both artist and distant art object, producer and object of consumption. Kusama's desire for self obliteration begets a "self" that comprises both the physical body and mentally conceived identity together. While feminist texts sometim es refer to the terms as separate and unrelated in an attempt to liberate identity from the trappings of the physical body, 7 Kusama resists this binary categorization. She both exploits her own body and moves beyond its limitations through self obliteration. Critics' widely varying !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 7. Judith Butler, Gender trouble : Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990), Chapter 4; Simone de Beauvior. The Second Sex (New York: Vintage Books, 1974), 283.
* treatment of Kusama's work has often mimicked points of contention during second wave feminism and beyond. In her essays that bridge "essentialism" and strict social constructionist theories of identity, Amelia Jones counters this argument She asserts that Kusama deploys the material as a means of destabilizing and reconstructing notions of identity Jones has helped to reconceptualize artists that deal with both identity politics and corporeality, as well as opened up new avenues for consideration in Kusama's work. Jones deals with the artist's insertion of her own body within her work. In particula r, she analyzes the artist's photographs, collages and promotional materials Central to Jones' argument is how the artist asserts her own "otherness" through a performance of self. 8 In these images, such as Untitled (Fig. 1), Kusama emphasizes her identit y as a distant, mentally ill artist. She appears to have lost herself in her own work, instead cohabitating with her art objects. Through the association of her body with the multiplied object, she reimagines her identity as a work of art, a persona to be commodified. She also challenges th e idea of the artist as genius. Kusama re images and re enacts a sense of self that is multiplied, destabilized or obliterated altogether, to use the artist's term. While Jones deals with this notion of performativity primarily in the artist's photographs and the images of the artist's body, I wish to extend this argument to Kusama's other work and to her process based art. Through the employment of her personal histo ry, Kusama's work enacts a splintered sense of self. At once non figurative and representing the artist's personal history, Yayoi Kusama's work challenges dominant modes of artistic creation and visual experience. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 8. Jones, Body Art: Performing the Subject 5 13.
+ In 1929, Yayoi Kusama was born to an aff luent but fiercely conservative family in Matsumoto, Japan. Her development as an artist began at a young age. She painted and sketched while living in an emotionally unstable household, in which she was physically, emotionally and psychologically abused by her mother. As a result, she continually suffers hallucinations. 9 While Kusama feels that she developed her artistic foundation while in Japan, she also discusses the cyclical relationships between her unstable home life, mental illness and the oppress ive Japanese culture. Seeking to move away from the traditional artistic techniques and cultural mores of her own country, the artist turned toward Western art practice. As such, in 1957 Kusama moved to Seattle, briefly, before continuing to New York City In New York, she found creative refuge from the social conservatism of post war Japan. It was at this time that Kusama created her large scale "Infinity Net" paintings that would serve to inform her aesthetic for years to come. These works seem to both be influenced by and critique the Abstract Expressionist movement to which her works were tangential. 10 Abstract Expressionism refers to a movement in American painting that thrived in the 1940s 50s, often referred to as the New York School painters. While the work of these artists resists cohesive definition, the movement is generally characterized by a lack of representational detail; instead, it is concerned with the expression of emotions or of the medium itself, of the "physical immediacy of paint." 11 W hile the movement was diverse and encompassed varying levels of abstraction, symbolism and emotion, this !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 9. Francis Morris, Yayoi Kusama (London: Tate P ublishing, 2012), 14. 10. Hoptman et al, Yayoi Kusama 8. 11. Oxford Art Online 2012. "Abstract Expressionism."
, essay refers to Barnett Newman's idea of a "pure" abstract expression. This movement toward a "pure" aesthetic in the 1940s reduced the essentials of p ainting and emotion; painting was no longer bound by pictorial symbols but expressed absolutes in the medium itself: "It embodied a kind of terse pictorial shorthand, provocative in itself or, rather like individual script, imbued with the physical impetus of its creator." 12 Section one of this thesis contextualizes Yayoi Kusama's work with the abstract expressionist style that was popular in 1950s New York. The section focuses particularly on this idea of absolutes of emotion or gesture in painting. Kusam a's Infinity Nets discussed in this section, fit within a highly abstractionist vein but eschew absolutes or transcendent cultural ideas. They are at once non representational, graphic abstractions of a unified sense of self, and testaments to a highly pe rsonalized experience of mental illness, trauma and loneliness. 13 Section two compares Yayoi Kusama's work s to those of the Pop artists. An international movement with a locus in Britain, the American Pop Art branch developed !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 12. Ibid. 13. This focus on 1940s 1950s Abstract Expressionism may represent a simplistic definition of the movement, perhaps seeming to deny the genre the capacity to express personal experience or emotion. Many scholars have contextualized the movement within a ba ckdrop of World War II and post war alienation, and in this way the attention to absolutes or symbols does not come out of nowhere but is deeply rooted to personal experience, even as the artists profess a universal symbolism. While a comparison of these t opics to Kusama's style is warranted, in this essay's short format I am focusing on a general idea that characterized the 1940s avant garde in New York. Further, I am hesitant to closely compare Kusama's work to Abstract Expressionism or any other North Am erican movement of the time for several reasons. While the artist was certainly aware of and concerned with American painting while studying art in Japan, opting to learn Western painting herself, strict categorization of her work into a genre limits its a bility to straddle genres, a quality which imbues it with a unique power when compared against the American artists operating in New York at the time. 14. Ibid.
! in the mid 1950s and early 1960s. Works are characterized by their depiction of mundane or mass produced items, often produced through mo dern modes of technology such as Warhol's screen print technique. Pop, short for "popular," foregrounded the idea that works themselves are consumer products to be commoditized in the art market. To this end, artists worked to establish specific stylistic "brands" for themselves. Yet, individual memories were frequently made secondary to the everyday objects of "collective" American experience. Kusama's absurd treatment of mundane materials and subject matter in her Accumulations elicits a comparison to Pop While the male Pop artists to which Kusama was compared did not use their own lives as subject matter, Kusama explicitly references her own history. A genre into which Yayoi Kusama is often placed is Feminist Body Art. Section three does not deal with K usama's performance art, but the element of performativity that runs through her work. It focuses on her documentary photos, describing how these frame her art practice in general. Finally, it discusses her move into installation w ork and her current life. Body A rt grew out of the Fluxus and performance art of the 1960s and 70s. Artists in the movement place an emphasis on the incorporation of their own bodies or those of the audience into the piece. Often, they involve extreme, dangerous or transgressive a cts that challen ge passive modes of reception on the part of the viewer. Early Body A rt developed in New York, California, Brazil and Vienna, among other locales. Coinciding with the second wave feminist movement in the United States, in the 1970s, many ar tists began to stage their bodies not just as more active features of visual art, but as essentially political, contested sites. Artists often identifying as female and/or feminist, explored issues of gender and sexuality in attempts to reclaim the woman' s
' body from the patriarchal visual realm. 14 Living in New York at the same time that Fluxus challenged the politics of viewing, after working on her Accumulations, Yayoi Kusama be gan working in performance and Body A rt. She attempted to erase the boundaries between herself and others, painting polka dots on stripped down participants, buildings, trees, and her own body. The following sections frame Kusama's art practice as a performance of the self both destroying and constructing a coherent sense of identity. Specifically, section one deals with Kusama's first works upon arriving in New York, the Infinity Net seri es, a s contesting the association between gesture and masculinity in Abstract Expressionism Instead, her methodical approach to painting calls upon her self discipline, past struggles in Japan and fusion of art making with therapy. The Infinity Nets (Figs. 8 9 ) perform the artist's struggle to adapt to a new environment as well as an eagerness to relinquish her own control over the process of painting. In tandem, the polka dots that were present in her early work in Japan begin to emerge here, further enacting a split sense of self that the artist continues to develop in later work. Kusama's move into Accumulation sculpture, (Figs. 12 18 ) with the Sex Obsession and Food Obsession series, explored in section two, combines the artist's obsessive desires and fear o f sex. Like the Pop artists with whom she became acquainted in this period, Kusama plays with the distance between artist and art object, presenting an ironic, excessive view of sexuality. The third segment deals with the artist's interest in self promotio n in her documentary phot os and installations. (Figs. 1 2, 19 26 ). Here, Kusama asserts herself as both excessively known "other" and !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 15. Oxford Dictionary of Art 2012. "Body Art."
$. ambiguous, mentally ill artist. Framing Kusama's body of work through this vein, I attempt to interpret some of the ways i n which the artist represents her own (non) identity. Reinscribing Past as Present: Early Paintings, Infinity Nets and Gesture Yayoi Kusama's career began in Japan in 1945 The artist's paintings were first shown in 1945 in a regional exhibition in Matsumo to City, outside of Nagano Prefecture. 15 Although the artist would eventually abandon painting for other media, it is still an art form she returns to over time. Through her paintings, Kusama articulates a sense of self that is both constructed and destroyed. She accomplishes such dual notions in a variety of ways. In her pre New York paintings t he artist primarily reflects her personal life. In this early period, Kusama emp loys symbols as a means of expressing emotion and mood. Kusama also explores themes such as impending death and the outside world as pathological. She has not yet theorized "obliteration" through form but envisions her own demise in her subject matter. Acc umulation of Corpses (Prisoner Surrounded by the Curtain of Depersonalization) 1950 (Fig. 3 ) recollects the artist's experience falling down the stairs in a hallucinogenic fit. The viewer is surrounded by the representation of death, a theme the artist continues to develop throughout her career in her fascination with obliteration. It was also at this time that she began obsessively repeating dot motifs, a theme that would continue throughout her later work. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 16. Morris, Yayoi Kusama 16.
$$ Background Work in Japan, Mental Illness Enrolled at the Mu nicipal Hiyoshigaoka School of A rt in Kyoto, Japan, Yayoi Kusama was trained p rimarily in the Nihonga style, a mid nineteenth century type of painting more similar to Western styles Rebelling against her parents wishes, sh e attended for one year, in 1948. The fine, detailed lines in Lingering Dream 1949 (Fig. 4 ) demonstrate the artist's use of this technique. The school's change from Nihonga back to an older, more conservative style after World War II emblematizes the effects of post war Japan's nationalism. 16 Feeling constrained by strict artistic guidelines at school, an oppressive home life and tyrannical mother, Kusama yearned for a more accepting environment. Throughout this period of artistic growth within a confining space, she was experiencing crippling psychological issues and hallucinations. Kusama ident ifies these early hallucinations as the impetus for the polka dot motif that she compulsively repeats throughout her career. She traces her first visions to age ten: One day, looking at a red flower patterned table cloth on the table, I turned my eyes to the ceiling and saw the same red flower pattern everywhere, even on the window glass and posts. The room, my body, the entire universe was filled with it, my self was eliminated, and I had returned and been reduced to the infinity of eternal time and the a bsolute of space. This was not an illusion but reality. I was astounded. If I did not get away from there, I would be wrapped up in the spell of the red flowers and lose my life. I ran for the stairs without thinking of anything else. Looking down, I saw t he steps fall one by one, pulling my leg and making me trip and fall from the top of the stairs. I sprained my leg. Dissolving and accumulating, proliferating and separating. A feeling of particles disintegrating and reverberations from an invisible univer se 17 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 17. Midori Yama mura. Yayoi Kusama (New York: Rizzoli, 2012), 23. 18. Yayoi Kusama, quoted by Akira Tatehata in "Magnificent Obsession," in Yayoi Kusama (New York: Rizzoli, 2012), 13.
$( In this passage, the artist describes not only the psychological effects that were beginning to take hold of her body, but a need to escape, lest she be "wrapped up in the spell of the red flowers." She struggles to save her life but tumbles down the stair s. Kusama loses control of her body. This tendency to cede sense of self in a "feeling of particles disintegrating" acts in much the same way as Kusama's obsessive art practice. In this period, she was incredibly prolific and produced over one thousand sma ll works. She describes her practice as habitual, and she feels compelled to produce work. As a means of coping with her intense visions and psychological trauma, Kusama threw herself into her work. She feverishly produced paintings and watercolors. The artist began to take up Western oil painting as a result of her disillusionment with Japanese culture, resorting to taking lessons from a private tutor. 18 Connecting her work to her life from a young age, the early paintings evoke a personal form of spirit uality, a mode of dealing with the world through symbols and netting. Her small paintings depict symbols in black across shadowy backgrounds in brighter colors. God of the Wind 1955 (Fig. 5 ) explicitly references the mystical and the natural in its title. There is a positive/negative tension between white and gray paint as if to suggest a mingling between forces. Cream colored swirls glow and push forward against the dark background. Red blotches may suggest blood or an organic object. The entire canvas is covered in Kusama's signature tiny black dots, which contrast with the softness of the painterly forms. While the artist denies religious influence in interviews, in this !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 19. Yamamura Yayoi Kusama 25.
$% work she links the spiritua l with the outside world. D espite her mention of wind, Kus ama's version of the environment is very unique and not typical of naturalist painting. The colors do not evoke a specific natural phenomenon. The themes Kusama is interested in, namely the polka dot obsession and an aversion to the natural world, constitu te her own form of spirituality and life practice. Other early motifs include polka dots draped across light netting, themes of organic growth and decay, and other natural forms that approach the microscopic or the cosmological. In Phosphorescence in the Day c. 1950 (Fig. 6 ), it appears that Kusama has layered pastel over ink and watercolor on paper. She invokes the webbed interiors of plant forms, seen under a microscope, juxtaposing pathological seeming dots on top. The polka dots almost seem to get caug ht in the web, eliciting a sense of conflict between background and foreground forces. Germ 1952 (Fig. 7 ) also covers the background in a mesh that catches the materials laid on top of it. Both images, and a great number of her other early paintings that s till exist, rely on a basic set of symbols: the screen, randomly placed polka dots, and strings or skeins that seem to grab hold of the other elements on the paper. The watercolors are quite small, only about 10 x 7" Their portable size enabled the artis t to carry them around everywhere with her when she moved to New York as a practical method of public display. They served as symbols of the artist's past history and of her willingness to extend these earlier tropes to new forms of art practice. The catal ogue accompanying Kusama's 2012 retrospective at the Tate Modern addresses Kusama's pre New York time period in great detail. Midori Yamamura and
$) Mignon Nixon describe Kusama's life in post war Japan, situating her later art practice and the negotiation of her identity within their cultural contexts. As described above, the artist's early paintings are necessary to the interpretation of later work, not only in terms of stylistic comparison but in that they help affirm the artist's general worldview and the way in which she mediates with the surrounding world when she encounters foreign territory. These early paintings provide a glimpse into the psychological dimension of Kusama's work. They also show how her art practice mediate s between herself and the external world, particularly her fascination with her own death. Accumulation of Corpses (Prisoner Surrounded by the Curtain of Depersonalization) 1950 (Fig. 3 ) exhibits a sense of loss and incapacitation. It begets the individual' s sense of larger, external forces that will end her life. A "curtain" of swirling, tornado like forms dominates the work and dooms the viewer to its curtain of chaos. Perhaps the only way out is represented by the golden scene far off in the almost unatta inable distance. Many of these works depict natural forms in distorted or disturbing ways. Lingering Dream 1949 (Fig. 4 ) was painted shortly after World War II's end. Sunflowers grow in a blood soaked landscape. They are grotesque with prickly petals and stems like internal organs that have been ripped out. Kusama clearly paints a distorted environment. She is more interested in reflecting serious or personal subject matter through the means of the outside world. Frequently, this tendency to depict her en vironment by means of a unique and highly personal psychology goes to extremes. Subject matter is taken from the perspective of either the microscopic or the cosmological, and sometimes the two are indistinguishable. Kusama's use of these distorted perspec t ives suggests her conceptual method of zooming in and out in order to control what she sees. Kusama's early work is symbolic of her
$* means of interaction with the world always mediated through the construction of images and her mental illness. When the a rtist begins creating Infinity Nets she constructs her identity more through process than symbols or content. In doing so, Kusama is able to limit the degree of her personal history evident in her works. The process of dot painting restricts biographical interpretation in its attention to form, pattern and texture. At the same time, Kusama's insistence on her own method of painting rejects an Abstract Expressionist, masculinist style in favor of a feminine, dispersed gestural mark. In this way, process is utilized toward Kusama's assertion of her own unique vision. The Nets' process based quality also enables Kusama to actively and cathartically work through her past. Employing the metaphor of viewing the world through either a microscope or a telescope, th e artist enacts a separation or a distance between herself and others, or between herself and her field of vision. She depicts her personal life through her art, but also manages to develop an art form through which she can control what and how she sees. T hroughout her career, Kusama appears to cede artistic control to the demands of her mental trauma. She almost acts as a servant to her painful past. Yet, through the association her history with artistic form, she projects an excess of identity. Behind the artist's work toward the repetitive, mundane and monotonous is an artistic creator. Kusama carefully controls these processes of netting and gesture through radical self discipline, self promotion and self treatment of her own mental illness. In doing so she enacts a form of artistic practice that fuses her experience in both the US and her home country, Japan. I will extend this tendency developed in Japan to the Infinity Nets.
$+ Further, I will compare Yayoi Kusama's methods to the other artists who were working in New York at the time Move to the US and the Infinity Nets After exhibiting these early paintings in Seattle in 1957 the artist moved on to a new style, furthering this concept of losing one's self while performing homages to her past experiences and memories. In order to demonstrate this point, I will show the artist's transition from symbolic, often figurative based work to symbol less, abstract gesture After arriving in New Y ork in 1958 Kusama first showed the Infinity Nets at a Boston group show in 1959, exhibiting only one painting. That same year, she slowly gained traction in the contemporary art world, having her first one woman show, entitled "Recent Paintings by Yayoi Kusama" at New York's Nova Gallery. Filling the gallery walls with white washed paintings, Kusama began to receive significant critical attention for the Nets, and signed with Stephen Radich Gallery in 1961. Several major exhibitions in the US and in Europ e solidified her presence in the contemporary art world even as she resisted categorization with the male artists with whom she was shown. These would include the European Zero group, a minimalist movement, and the North American Pop artists. 19 An early In finity Net, No. D 1959 (Fig. 8 ), exemplifies the artist's change from more symbolic and figurative works to process based and abstract ones. Further, the artist's use of complete abstraction serves to further complicate direct interpretations of her personal life in her work. The piece consists of black canvases overlaid with thick, !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 20. Francis Morris, Yayoi Kusama (New York: Rizzoli, 2012), 32 52.
$, painted coils of white. The artist then white washes th e entire canvas so as to create a weathering effect or a screen, lightening the surface of the image. Kusama's untitled Infinity Nets were originally inspired by her Pacific Ocean watercolor series, which she had begun in 1958 and would complete in 1962 W hite nets, possibly representing ethereal clouds floating atop dark, murky skies, symbolize the artist's fear of and struggle with her new surroundings: "White nets enveloping the black dots of silent death against a pitch dark background of nothingness." 20 Midori Yamamura suggests Kusama was inspired by her flight over the Pacific, a period in which oft returned to themes of life, death and nothingness permeated her consciousness. The Nets' description evokes a bird's eye sensation of the world, similar to the sense of visual distortion present in the artist's early paintings. The Nets exhibit some similarities to Abstract Expressionist works, including visibility and repetitiveness of brushstroke Mignon Nixon writes, describing the relationship between th e artist's transcontinental flight and the materia lity of her brush stroke (Fig. 9 ): Thick, glistening Os, rendered roughly, as if by gripping the brush in a clenched fist, clot and scab the dark ground, sometimes collapsing on themselves like burst balloo ns. And from this congested surface, the grey ground pops out in ragged patches like would be polka dots, or like the ocean's blue black depths glimpsed through peepholes in a cloudy sky. 21 The visual disruption between white paint in relief, thickly etch ed and creating grooves, with blue black centers enacts a push/pull effect. Black dots of sky punctuate !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 21. Yamamura, Yayoi Kusama 53. 22. Nixon, Mignon. "Infinity Politics," in Yayoi Kusama (New York: Rizzoli, 2012), 179.
$! through a white cloudy skein, distorting a figure and ground relationship In her comparison of the Nets to the artist's flight across the Pacific, Yama mura suggests a correlation between Kusama's personal experience and her handling of paint At the same time, the Nets are non figurative. Although th e Infinity Nets may recall Kusama's memory of the Pacific, their abstract quality enables Kusama to exhibit them with the Abstract Expressionists and other male dominated groups. Kusama exists in betwee n categories, at once Abstract E xpressionist in her delivery and minimal in her result. This characteristic figures prominently in her early work and will continue to define her aesthetic up to the present day. Ultimately, the work's resistance to resolving the figure ground relationship lies hand in hand with the Abstract Expressionist privilege of line and shape over content. Still, Ku sama's work differs in its intimate elicitation of her personal history if not coherent narrative. The Infinity Nets and Reinscribing Life in Japan The Infinity Nets' brushstroke appears patterned and recalls the works' long, methodical process of creation. A focus on the process based quality of Kusama's Nets enables a reading of her work as performative Through her monotonous painting process, Kusama performs her past struggles to break free from oppression from her mental illness, her trou bled home life and conservative Japanese culture that discouraged her to take up oil painting. These hardships manifest in her fixation with circles and dots Nixon writes of how Kusama continuously deals with her traumas in her Infinity Nets unable to break free from her past : "Kusama enacts this predicament, exiling narrative in preference to the temporality of enactment, each brushstroke marking a moment of time
$' passing, but not past." 22 The Nets do not deal with issues that have plagued Kusama in the past but indicate that they are still haunting her. Kusama's works do not depict linear narratives of her history but continuously re enact her processes of dealing with oppressive culture. They are performed statements of a decades long, incessant strugg le. Reluctant to relate her work to individual events, the artist's methodical, serial process calls to mind the goals of mid century formalism while refuting its main claims to authority in the art world. Kusama's meditative artistic process eschews indiv idual control, acting to parody the connection between gesture and masculinity in the New York School. Nixon's quote above emphasizes the materiality of these works, the thick, textured layers emphasizing the dense lushness of this new medium [oil]: O's th at "clot and scab" on a "congested" ground. Working within this medium, Kusama reimagines the handlin g of paint, competing with the Abstract E xpressionists. Upon her arrival in New York, she makes clear a sense of opposition to other artists, and a clear g oal of defining her own, unique artistic presence. In a 2000 interview, Kusama describes her motivations upon her arrival in her new home: The first thing I did in New York was to climb up the Empire State Building and survey the city. I aspired to grab e verything that went on in the city and become a star. At the time, New York was inhabited by some 3,000 adherents of action painting. I paid no attention to them, because it was no use doing the same thing. As you said, I am in my heart an outsider. 23 The artist was set, from the start, in her intention to forge her own distinct artistic path. Her description of looking down on the city from the top of the Empire State building !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 23. Nixon, Yayoi Kusama 182. 24. Akira Tatehata and Yayoi Kusama, "Akira Tatehata in Conversation with Yayoi Kusama," in Yayoi Kusama (New York: Rizzoli, 2012), 9.
(. recalls Kusama's practice of zooming in and out, as is evident in her pre New Yo rk work (Figs. 6 7). As if viewing either the cosmic or the microscopic, the artist prioritizes her own field of vision in creating her work. At the same time, Kusama arrived in New York amidst a bustling scene of Abstract Ex pressionism and early Pop art, a mong other trends. In 1958 and early 1959 alone, The Museum of Modern Art held one man shows of the work of Willem DeKooning and Mark Rothko, and showed a "Recent Sculpture USA" exhibit. 24 Kusama's work shares with the Abstract Expressio nists its straightforwardness in painting process and visibility of brushstroke. Her repetitive, meditative process subverts their masculinist approach to painting. 25 In each loop or dot, Kusama's gesture is evident: a simple flick of the wrist. In this way, the work s vacillate between serialism and betraying human error in the same way that they recall her personal history as well as eschew it. Through obsessively reproducing the dot pattern, the artist takes part in an erasure of a sense of self as artistic creator. Infinitely reproduced dots appear to be overwhelming in their anonymity. As "nets" they serve to shield both artist and viewer from their imperfections and from the work's existence on the picture plane. An early critic of her work, Donald Judd, noted t he interaction between the background and the "net" of Kusama's paintings causes the work to oscillate between the infinity of pictorial !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 25. MoMA. "1950 59." Press Release Archives. http://www.moma.org/learn/resources/press_archives/1950s (accessed April 20, 2013). 26. Griselda Pollock, "Killing Men and Dying Women: Gesture and Sexual Difference," in The Practice of Cultural Analysis, Exposing Interdisciplinary Interpretation (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).
($ space and the presence of the material surface. 26 In this balancing act, the identity of both the artist as creator and the viewer as subjective seer are called into question. The artistic creator merges with the painting, as its overwhelming scale and impact demand the viewer's attention and pull it toward the repetitive and away from the original and organic. In a simple flick of the wrist, Kusama's non obtrusive brushstroke breaks away from the association between abstract art and a sense of masculine force; she reimagines "action painting" as humble practice. By producing similarly non figural work, paradoxically, Kusam a is able to differentiate herself from her competitors, even the female abstract expressionists that were working at the time such as Lee Krasner and Elaine DeKooning. Nixon writes that the artist's ability to both participate in the non figural movement and work with a highly unique gestural form constitutes a break from masculinist art practice: a "Recoding (of) a phallic performance of ecstatic gesture, exemplified in the legendary drip paintings of Jackson Pollock, to a feminine one of libidinal diffus ion, in which energy pulses in waves across the work's expanse." 27 Here, Nixon suggests that Kusama not only alters the practice of her male colleagues but opens up a space within abstract painting for women. Kusama's reimaging of the gestural mark begins early in her career. It is also a tendency she will explore later, in different types of media. About ten years after she began the Nets and after the success of her Accumulations which will be explored in the prece ding section, the artist began working i n installation and performance art. Her 1967 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 27. Laura Hoptman, "Yayoi Kusama: a Reckoning," in Yayoi Kusama (New York: Phaidon, 2000), 44. 28. Nixon, Yayoi Kusama 179.
(( film, Kusama's Self Obliteration also explores the self erasing gesture and free brushstroke that Nixon deems "libidinal" in its swirling, pulsing rhythmic dots. In the film, Kusama paints polka dots on the eph emeral, from the surface of water to gyrating, sweaty bodies. 28 In a still from the film 1967 (Fig. 10), s he dots the water only to watch her dots float away, become distorted and take on new life in the current The orgiastic scene at the close of the film presents bodies mashed together, flashes of light pulsing across the screen. Kusama weaves in between the participants with her paintbrush as sh e inscribes dots on skin (Fig. 11 ). The film's imagery is fairly hallucinogenic, as it moves from scene to scene and flashes colors and dots across the screen. In the same self effacing way that Kusama reworks brushstroke in the Net paintings, in the film she defines gesture as transient: paint condenses and drips off of bodies or floats downstream in a ripple of pigment. Kusama's ability to work within this framework while subverting it constitutes a victory for female artists, and the art world more generally. At the same time, it is necessary to be critica l of interpretations that posit a causal relationship between gender and art practice. This is particularly important for Kusama. Part of her art practice is to continually obscure her true identity and to construct a faade of the mentally ill artist or i naccessible genius. The artist's partial isolation from the viewer, and the lack of seemingly "real" information regarding the artist's image of herself, means that biographical interpretations such as these should be continually reviewed and reassessed. H er method of "diffusing" the gesture may relate to what is understood as her "woman ness," but it also stems from other factors such as her background and artistic training. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 29. Ibid. 180 182.
(% Overall, the Infinity Nets 1959 1961 (Figs. 8 9 ), respond to Kusama's earlier pai ntings and traumatic life events by reinscribing the past in her present artistic practice. The sense of self discipline required by the paintings recalls the moments she wishes to forget hallucinogenic episodes, abuse from her mother and conservative cul ture in postwar Kyoto. Her art practice serves as a form of catharsis. It enables her to elude a sense of self that only serves as a tragic reminder of her past. In this way, her work in a non figurative medium avoids explicit mention of personal narrative while it engenders a sense of feminine gesture, carving out a future for Kusama in North America. The Accumulations: Pop Made Personal Following the success of her Infinity Nets solo show in 1959, in 1962 Kusama moved on to sculpture with her Accumulati ons The works comprise the Sex Obsession and Food Obsession series. In comparison to the more non representational, meditative Nets, these works allude more directly to the artist's personal life: the titles of the series proclaim the artist's obsessive c ompulsive tendencies and fascination with sex. Through a 1962 group showing at New York's Green Gallery, Kusama exhibited the first of these new works. She was the only female artist included in the exhibition. Kusama's work is similar to that of the other artists in her humorous take on the use of commonplace materials. However, the artist uses her work to enact a sense of critical distance between herself and her sex obsession. Her fear of intimacy is the driving force behind the Accumulations Most obviously, the phalli speak to the artist's compulsive tendencies and fear of sex, as she notes in her autobiography, Infinity Net : "Artists do not usually express their own psychological complexes and fears as subjects. I am terrified by just the th ought of something long and ugly like a phallus entering me, and that is why I make
() so many of them." 29 Her Accumulations (Figs. 12 13 16 18 ) enable her to work through this issue through several different means. In Accumulation no. 1 1962 (Fig. 12 ), Kusam a parodies the phallus that terrifies her. She transforms the phallus 30 and the sofa into absurd, nonfunctional objects. Ultimately, she robs the phallus of its dominating power over her life by multiplying it. Kusama developed skills in handicraft through mandated labor in a Japanese textile mill. She uses these abilities in sewing phalli for her Accumulations As a result, she reiterates her personal history as the subject matter in her work the intense process based nature of the sculptures enables her to both recall her memories and lose herself in the repetitive, monotonous creation of art. This humor in the recontextualization of the everyday parallels Warhol's elevation of the Campbell's soup can to a work of art. It also reflects his conceptual dis tancing between artist and art object. The Pop artists distorted sense of authorship through the use of screen printing instead of painting. Warhol removed himself from the artistic process by allowing his Factory members to create images that did not refl ect the human touch. This technique made the works impersonal and did not require the artist to cut the stencil. Kusama heightens a sense of artistic origin by treating material from her !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 30. Kusama, Infinity Net 47. 31. Oxford English Dictionary 3 rd ed., "phallus: 1. a. An image of the (usually erect) penis, esp. as a symbol of the generative power in nature, venerated in various religions; esp. one carried in the Dionysiac festivals of ancient Greece." I do not wish to discuss Kusama's phalli in terms of the term's history in Western European religious rites and in Freud. Rather, I intend to focus on the aspect of domination that her fears have over her life and her art. I also extend my discussion to the context of the Accumulations' creation; Kusama's works were primarily received alongside works by male artists.
(* personal life as subject matter. The inclusion of personal, even inti mate, content mocks the impersonal consumerism of the Pop Art movement. The Accumulations parody the Pop artist's use of consumer goods. Kusama treats furniture and patriarchal culture ironically, as ubiquitous commodities to be manipulated at her disposal. While the Pop artists celebrate consumer goods, Accumulation No. 1 1962 (Fig. 1 2 ) a so fa turned soft sculpture, is an absurd object. The work was the first sculpture Kusama exhibited, and was presented alongside work by Claes Oldenberg, George Segal, James Rosenquist and Andy Warhol (Fig. 14 ). 31 As in her other works in this series, the ar tist works with furniture scrounged from the street. The protuberances that cover the sofa are white cotton sleeves the artist has stuffed with cotton. After encrusting the chair with hundreds of what she calls "phalli", Kusama covers it entirely in white paint. The gesture is similar to Kusama's process when creating the Infinity Nets (Figs. 8 9) in which she covers a polka dotted canvas in a layer of white paint. The object oscillates between functional object of domesticity and exercise in absurdity. It is still recognizable as a chair, but has been altered. In the Accumulation seri es, Kusama exposes the phallus' false sense of a threat. Kusama's phalli mimic the hegemonic effects of the patriarchy in that they are omnipresent; however, she transforms t hem as to be ineffectual. Producing no threat, they are empty, "soft" sculptures. Her rendering of the phallus as a "real," commodified object ridicules it and establishes its position as a social construction. Its power is robbed once it is softened and m ultiplied to infinity. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 32. Laura Hoptman "Yayoi Kusama's Return to MoMA." Inside/Out. http://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2012/10/09/yayoi kusamas return to moma/ (accessed April 16, 2013).
(+ Through multiplying the phalli, Kusama is able to regain control over her fears and sense of loss. Kusama's phalli stand as symbols of her personal fears. Because her Accumulations replicate the phallus, they associate the artist's life with commercialism. Kusama turns her intimate anxieties into commodities. They are on display in the gallery for the world to see. Kusama is not afraid to poke fun at her own personal life, collapsing the distance between the artist and her obsessions Kusama was not attempting to make an anti consumerist statement or even to deal with these issues more generally. She is primarily concerned with the alleviation of her obsession. At the time that she was working in New York in the early 1960s, Pop st rategies were becoming popular, and there is certainly evidence to believe that she would have been aware of their practices beyond what was shown at the Green Gallery in 1962. Her transformation of subject matter into commoditized image can be compared to a similar tendency in Warhol. Marilyn Monroe Diptych 1962 (Fig. 15 ) extends this idea of a factory produced technique to subject matter. Warhol multiplies the image of the famous Hollywood siren, paralleling her mass produced image in popular culture to the mass produced nature of silkscreen production. In doing so, he compares the identity of the subject depicted with that of a commercial object. Further, Kusama enacts this transformation of subject matter through a highly detailed, time intensive proces s. She overtly positions herself as artistic creator. Kusama participates in the patriarchal system by linking art practice with shaping the phallic form; the act of forming multiples of these objects, like dot painting parallels the loss of sense of self Through the act of creating the Accumulations she performs her own oppression. The repetition of hand stuffed phallic forms, like the Infinity dots, calls to
(, mind the controlling society in Japan, as well as the constraints the artist's own mental condi tion places on her. 32 While in Japan, the artist took part in mandatory factory work The textile factory in which she worked demanded that she spend long hours knitting. Ironically, the skills in sewing and handicraft that she developed in an oppressive env ironment contributed to her success in New York in creating the Accumulations The male Pop artists at Green Gallery celebrate the products of a consumerist society. Kusama's approach is decidedly more intimate and entails more of a risk. The inclusion of Kusama's personal life into her work [her fear of sex and sex organs] and her subsequent parody of masculinity represents a clear difference from the rest of the Pop artists. 33 She did, however, explore self promotion as a major theme in her work as early as 1958, as will be explored in the final section. Ccile Whiting writes about Pop art's distortion of masculine identity and Warhol's gender bending in her book A Taste for Pop: Pop Art, Gender, and Consumer Culture She argues that, through the male ar tists' associations with consumerism, normally confined to the sphere of female activity, they successfully "queer" their identities and the relationship between masculinity and art practice. 34 While the male Pop !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 33. Nixon, Yayoi Kusama 182. 34. There exist some important similarities between Kusama and the Pop artists. Andy Warhol's images of himself examined his own queer identity and he worked aggressively promote a provocative, gender bending public image. It is difficult to establish to what degre e Kusama was influenced by Warhol's self publicity. 35. Ccile Whiting, A Taste for Pop: Pop Art, Gender, and Consumer Culture ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). I wish to address this idea of consumerism as women's activity. This statement is made in relation to North American artists and the history of the female consumer in the United States. In particular, Whiting refers to the advertising strategies marketed towards women in the US in the post WWII industrial boom. However, I wish to cla rify that I am not relating this idea to Yayoi
(! artists may have altered gender norms in the se ways, Kusama bravely commoditizes her own life experiences. In doing so, she establishes a singular point of view in the art world. In 1968, she told a reporter, "Anything mass produced robs us of our freedom. We, not the machine, should be in control." 35 In this quote, Kusama makes clear her emphasis on freedom of artistic practice and from commercialism. Laura Hoptman considers Kusama's Accumulations to be sta rk contrasts to Warhol's work: Warhol's entire oeuvre, exemplified by the cool remove of the m edium of silkscreen, exhibits what the art historian Robert Rosenblum has called a shoulder shrugging indifference to direct and unique experience', as well as the celebration of the annihilation of the authorial hand (Kusama's) neat privileging of the original over its endlessly reproducible simulation runs counter to the very idea of Warhol's Factory, where industrial production and mass marketing merged seamlessly and sensationally with contemporary art. 36 Certainly, Kusama relies on her personal hist ory as subject matter. The handicraft involved in her practice also rejects the idea of a technique of mass production in art. However, Hoptman's assertion that Kusama attempts to create an "original" artwork needs to be qualified. Her pieces are not "orig inals" but reproductions of dreams, hallucinations and memories that continually plague her. She states in an interview: "(My work) arises from a deep, driving compulsion to realize in visible form the repetitive image inside of me. When this image is give n freedom, it overflows the limits of time and space." 37 Defining Kusama's work as focusing on this quality of originality suggests that each work deals with a specific issue that is then resolved through the work. Rather, there !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!! Kusama or to other cultural spheres. I recognize that she comes out of a different cultural background in which consumerism as a women's activity does not necessarily apply. 36. Kusama qtd in Hoptman, 56. 37. Hoptman, Yayoi Kusama 59. 38. Kusama qtd in Hoptman, Yayoi Kusama 104.
(' is no resolution in Kusama's work but multiplication Kusama's artistic process relies on the replication of her obsessions as subject matter. She not only feels compelled to reproduce the dot pattern or the phallus but her works are also visual accompan i ments to the idea of obsession that is central to her philosophy. Throughout a career that spans more than sixty years Kusama continually returns to the same themes of depe rsonalization and sex obsession in her work. Thus, these are concepts she is still dealing with and acti vely recreating in each work. This idea of the artist's replication of her self and mental illness will be explored in greater deal in a discussion of the artist's documentary photographs. The artist's terror of the phallus is perhaps also correlated with her worsening mental and physical conditions and position as a struggling outsider artist in North America. When she began creating her Accumulations she was still struggling to gain a foo thold in New York. Yet, rather than be a passive victim of patriarchal culture, she negotiates her own identity through the act of shaping the phallus. Each phallus is hand made by her and her husband, prominent artist and critic Donald Judd. Through the e nacting of a female construction of the phallus, Kusama usurps patriarchal power for women. She also affirms her own identity and unique position as a female artist. Showing this sofa alongside objects by male artists, Kusama's work stands out. As will be discussed further later in this section, the Accumulations' intimate subject matter stands in stark contrast to that of her contemporaries. Whereas Warhol and Oldenberg, among others, delighted in the mass produced, the "universal" American experience, Kus ama depicts radically individualized content.
%. Untitled Accumulation 1964 (Fig. 16 ) depicts this same initially threatening phallus that is rendered impotent and comical. Kusama has strewn dozens of white painted shoes across the floor. The cover of paint highlights the function of the shoes as decorative appendages to the figure, while also serving to unify the disparate shapes into a body that collectively shares the same experience and treatment by the artist. Sprouting out of each shoe like seedling s a re the same phallic growths that cover Kusama's Accumulation sculptures. They appear to be generated from the shoes, and yet overtake the shoes in a sign of dominance. The penile objects in the shoes deny them their practical function. Instead, the phalli, positioned in different directions, animate the shoes. The audience sees the irony and purposeful level of cliche this these works. The phallic growths are so excess ive that they become humorous. The almost animated nature of the stunted phalli robs them of their power of domination. They become an object of laughter for the viewer, who experiences a greater awareness of the absurd nature of the idea of the "dominatin g phallus Baby Carriage 1964 (Fig. 17 ) further illustrates this point, specifically through a high contrast between the object's associations and its treatment. More so than many of her Accumulations this object's functionality is obvious. The high contrast between the overwhelming nature of the encrusted phalli versus the innocence of the infant that belongs there highlights the excessive, pervasive effects of patriarchal culture. This concept is also expressed formally, as the bulbous, organic, ph allic shapes contrast the smooth, hard and linear edges of the carriage's limbs. By covering it with silver phalli, Kusama transforms the carriage into an object of ridicule and irony.
%$ In 1964, Kusama extends the quality of excess to the viewer's subjec tivity. Driving Image Show (Fig. 18) realizes Kusama's dream of the total repetitive environment, enveloping viewers within her own constructed space of mental illness or compulsiv eness. The exhibition combines elements of her Sex Obsession and Food Obses sion series, in which the artist blankets household objects with either phalli or macaroni. 38 Driving Image Show consists of a living room style space that was filled with these obsessively covered objects, including furniture and clothes with outgrowths of multiplying phalli, macaroni that covered clothing and was scattered on the floor, and Infinity Net paintings lining the walls. The presentation of Kusama's objects in this sort of living room tableau received great critical attention and well as controversy. Further, the artist's reconstruction of the familiar domestic space, the living room, parallels her public conception as a mad artist. The room has come to life as a madhouse of color, text ure and print. It is a chaotic testament to the harrowing effects of Kusama's hallucinations. The exhibition even contained female mannequins enveloped in Kusama's signature polka dotted print. Critics described the show as extremely overwhelming and tensi on ridden. The high contrast objects appear to "shimmer and buzz; separate, distinguishable things tended to dissolve in their all over texture.'" 39 Macaroni crunched under the feet of visitors, phalli covered furniture simultaneously inviting and repelli ng them. The exhibition was a precursor to the "Environment" installation works that she would explore further in later !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 39. Hoptman, Yayoi Kusama 50. 40. Critic's review of her installation, Driving Image Show qtd in Hoptman, Yayoi Kusama 40.
%( years, which allow the viewer to physically become part of the exhibition space. In doing so, spectators can enact the same disruption o f sense of self that w ill be discussed in Section three which deals with Kusama's promotional photos and later installation work. This work in 1964 does not simply just crowd together several Accumulation works in a room, but presents them together in a s pace where the sum is more frenzied than its parts. In her essay, "I'm Here, But Nothing," Jo Applin writes of this tendency of the Environments to make a collective impression on the individual before he or she can register their constituent parts. The v iewer experiences the same initial disruption of subject and object boundaries as the artist. 40 Dot covered walls and floors confuse the viewer as to where one object ends and another begins. In this totally immersive space, the individual is indistinguisha ble from his or her environment. Kusama's Environments act as metaphors for the integration of her art and her life she is both subsumed by her time intensive art practice, and harnesses the chaotic mesh of polka dots as a means of treating her own illne sses. The Accumulations transform the symbolic phallus into a comical, impotent object. While the works enable the artist to manage her fear of sex through a carefully controlled repetition, they also present a possibility for a loss of sense of self. The artist's obsession to obliterate herself is represented in her sculptures, as she is represented as mere repetitions of a symbol. While she loses herself in her work through tedious process, she is not wholly intellectually lost. The sense of humor in exc ess in the Accumulations is perhaps their most prominent quality. Kusama's work is ever stronger for striking a balance between Pop and personal. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 41. Jo Applin, "I'm Here, but Nothing," in Hoptman, Yayoi Kusama, 204.
%% Documentary photos, Installations and Public Persona as Strategy and Concept The deep connection between the artist's personal life and her work continues to form a major part of her thematic interests. At the same time, the degree to which she reveals her personal struggles or masks them from public view can vary greatly, filtered through the diverse media of p ainting, sculpture, installation and performance art. While working in these different art forms, Yayoi Kusama has documented her practice via photography. Kusama effects both her own self identification and self obliteration through these photos. Her earl y promotional photos announced her presence in the art world, highlighting very specific cultural and physical attributes while hiding others. Laura Hoptman notes that these photos functioned as public relations materials, works of art and self portraits. 41 While they served the purpose of self aggrandizement, many of these photographs have become works in themselves. They were usually untitled a nd had served the purpose of documenting Kusama's exhibits, but now get treated by scholars as works Untitled 1966 (Fig. 2 ) was originally intended as merely a promotional image for Driving Image Show As in this image and in many of her others, Kusama is often pictured next to or within her works of art T he artist creates even deeper associations between her his tory, her body and her practice. Many other photographs depict scenes from Kusama's installations By creating visual records of the transitory and site specific, they transform ephemeral moments into coherent relics from the artist's life and career Amelia Jones' scholarship on these images has also characterized the !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 42. Hoptman, Yayoi Kusama 57.
%) photographs as living testaments to the artist's creation of identity, providing scholars with a template for the study of performative, site specific or otherwise temporary works. 42 This early tendency to self promote has led to the development of different themes within the artist's work. Kusama aggressively asserts her own difference through portrayals of her psychic distance, mental instability, gender, sexuality and celebrity. She may be well known as a female artist, for example, yet is intellectually incoherent and absent. Throughout these different photographs, Kusama collapses public image and identity. "Kusama" is now a public persona beyond her works of art. 43 The development of this public image results in a second theme: the disruption of subject/object relations. Kusama explores these specifically by inhabiting both roles herself. The themes of excessive sexuality and desire come into play here, as the artist attracts and r epels the gaze. Thirdly, in beginning to work in Installation, she spotlights the viewer's experience of celebrity and psychic instability. Working with "Environments" and installation space has been fertile ground for the explorations of these concepts, i n which Kusama encourages the body to mingle with mirrored surfaces, Las Vegas style lights and all encompassing, "obliterating" polka dots. In doing so, she allows viewers to experience a similar distortion of sense of self. The section will conclude with a short discussion of how these themes continue to evolve in more recent times. Her 2012 collaborations with the Tate Modern and Louis Vuitton have thrust "Kusama" into the limelight. Whether in overt artistic works or in !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 43. See above, notes 6 and 8. 44. The artist frequently refers to herself in the third person, as "Kusama." See Infinity Net 2012 and interview in Hoptman, Yayoi Kusama 2000.
%* commercially distributed photogra phs, Kusama asserts her inaccessible public identity as intimately connected to her art. Kusama's ability to market herself and her work, through an acute articulation of difference, continues to contribute greatly to her success. As early as the late 19 50s, Kusama hired photographers to capture images of her with her Infinity Nets Marketing strategy began to play a larger role in the artist's practice A s Kusama became more successful, she more fervently asserted her position in the New York art scene. The images included in this section span from the a rtist's first promotional image until the present day P osing with the Infinity Nets in 1957 in 1964 she begins to envelop herself within her work through a photograph collage. The development of Kusama's identification with or within her work e mphasize s the cyclical process in which she creates and further develops motifs, memories and personal identities. The ways in which Kusama constructs this difference constitute a performance, one in which Kusama acts as mentally ill artist, female sexualized object, or both. For example, as a young, female, Japanese emigrant to the US, Yayoi Kusama entered the New York contemporary art scen e a foreigner in many senses. Within a short period of time after moving to New York and equipped with little knowledge of English, few personal contacts or material means, the artist was able to break into the competitive art market. Kusama did so through an aggressive promotion of her unique public image. In 1959, she hired a photographer to advertise for her upcoming solo exhibition of the Infinity Nets 44 The photograph in Untitled, (Fig. 19 ) depicts the artist at work in her studio. Her photographs from this show at Steven Radich Gallery do not exhibit the !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 45. Hoptman, Yayoi Kusama 42.
%+ excessive sexuality and difference evident in photographs that advertise her upcoming exhibitions. They are simpler and picture a cold, physically distant artist. In this scene, Kusama crouches amidst a room of overlapping Infinity Nets Surrounded by large canvases, she appears meek in comparison. She glances toward the camera only slightly, as if to indicate a disturbance to her practice. Already Kusama has constructed herself as a cold, unavailable being, highly immersed in her work. Untitled (Fig. 20 ), presumably taken the same day as the artist wears the same clothing, exhibits the same quality o f an artist who is closed off from the external world. While she is not shown in the act of painting, this image asserts a similar notion of the artist's close connectedness to her work. Kusama stands at the far edge of the Net She is diminutive in comparison to the work and stern in her gaze. She stands in front of her biggest Net in Untitled 1959 (Fig. 21 ), a photograph taken far away in order to capture the monumentality of the canvas. At the same time that Kusama defines her public identity as intrinsically connected to her art work, she collapses an individualized notion of the self into the all subsuming void of the Net. Following the success of the Infinity Nets series Kusama promoted her proceeding solo exhibitions through phot ographs that emphasize her difference as mentally ill artist or as a woman. These photographs, beginning in 1964, also mark the artist's use of a collage technique. She begins collaging herself into works, and thus is not just standing beside them but bec omes a part of them. Her documentary photographs of herself with her Accumulations emphasize their own constructedness, or the obliteration of a self that exists prior to this construction. Through overtly constructing a public persona of madness celebrit y and femininity, she satirizes self representation.
%, In the promotional photos for Driving Image Show (Installation view) 1964 (Fig. 18 ), Kusama positions herself as inaccessible to the viewer due to both her mental illness and her sexuality. A frequent trope of these images consists of the artist cavorting on, under or amidst her sculptures They are more aggressive than her previous promotional images because they create stronger association s betwee n Kusama 's art and her personal qualities or idiosyncra sies [obsession, fear, celebrity, gender .] In a photo collage for Driving Image Show s exhibition poster 1964 (Fig. 22) Kusama collages herself against a backdrop of erect phalli She hold s in front of her a stiff dress covered in macaroni that mimic phal li in their hard texture The dress completely covers her body except for her head and two dangling legs, so that she almost fades away into the background of the art piece. Her gaze is straight on and impenetrable by the viewer, which limits her subjecti vity. In this case her self is obliterated while, simultaneously, consciously constructed as the mentally ill "other." Placing herself within and as her own artistic creation serves to further remove Kusama from the external world. As in the photographs taken with the Infinity Nets these images stress the artist's envelopment within her own imagination. The work's collage medium emphasizes its essentially constructed nature The artist consciously theorize s her identity through these images and inflects them with her own personal psychology of Depersonalization disorder Similarly, in a view of her installation piece Infinity Mirror Room Phalli's Field (or Floor Show ) 1965 (Fig. 1 ), the artist separates h erself from reality through self identification with her art. She stands in a room with mirrored walls. Cushy red and white polka dotted phalluses accumulate on the floor. Piled several feet high and reflected to infinity in each of the mirrors, the pha lluses exude
%! an overwhelming feeling of excess and looming, metastatic growth. The room is the spatial counterpart to her early paintings that depict organic growth as sickly (Figs. 4 7 ). The artist stands with the sickly phalli wearing a red unitard H er characteristically stark stare appear s to deny herself a consciousness. The mirrored room traps her and restricts her field to vision to see only herself, replicated an infinite number of times. In the photo, a great foreground of stuffed phalli separates her from the viewer. Although she is the artist, her positioning of herself as endlessly replicated serves to limit her subjectivity and complicate her designation as authorial creator. She challenges self representations that only serve to glorify the a rtist and his or her skills. Kusama also creates a distance between herself and the viewer that invites a contemplation of her mental illness with her art. Her self association with the absurdity of shape and donning of a red leotard emphasizes the parodic nature of the photograph ; Kusama paints an image of herself not as artistic genius but as circus performer left alone in a hall of mirrors. These curious "self portraits" invite the viewer to contemplate a notion of the artist not as all powerful but hum an in her faults and idiosyncrasies. In Untitled 1966 (Fig. 2 ), another photo collage, the artist coquettishly splays her body across a bed of erect phalli. While this image could be read as the artist trying to further integrate her self with her work, its more obvious reading lends itself to the artist's explicit construction of her own sexuality. Asserting her visage as an overly marked body, Kusama satirizes the subject object dichotomy between spectator and one who is viewed. She enacts a performance of her identity as a woman and as an empowered cultural comme ntator. In the image Kusama is naked except for various polka dots that blanket her body,
%' high heels and hair. She lies atop Accumulation No. 2 in front of an Infinity Net background. Kusama presents herself as the vulnerable sexual object, subsumed int o an all sexual void. In Kristine C. Kuramitsu's essay in Decomposition: Postdisciplinary Performance she describes the artist's performance: "A virtual parody of the racist and sexist frameworks imposed on her, a winkingly over the top performance of he r subject position which might open avenues to aesthetic posterity." 45 Through her aggressive portrayal of herself as "other," accomplished in a sort of theatrical parody, the artist separates herself from patriarchal culture She positions herself as an en lightened commentator by overtly calling attention to her over sexualized presentation Kusama 's gaze toward and straightforward acknowledgement of the viewer also highlight the element of desire in spectatorship. She beckons forth the viewer's gaze as a means of calling attention to her performance of excess, of woman as "other." In the same way that Kusama proliferates the phallus in order to exert control over it, in th is image she disperses the power of the desi rous viewer by rendering it obvious. In the phrase "Desire is everywhere and nowhere," Kusama expresses an association between desire and its pictorial replication 46 Through the multiplication, excess and overpowering nature of her constructed aura of sexuality, Kusama is able to escape her fear of desire. Kusama's version of a Playboy centerfold, in which she subverts the gaze, also subjects the viewer to a feeling of abjection. Rather than experience titillation upon viewing of this image, viewers a re put off by its chaotic, patterned texture and accumulated phallic objects. As a result, Kusama's smooth, rounded body acts as a !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 46. Kuramitsu, Kristine C. in Decomposition: Post Disciplinary Performance (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), 63. 47. Morris, Yayoi Kusama 124.
). visual oasis in its contrast to the bristly phalli, drawing in the eye of the viewer. Even still, this visual contrast acts to further draw attention to the work's tension and excess of sexuality. The link between desire and viewership is reversed. I nstead viewers repudiate what they are seeing. In addition to its function as social criticism, the photo acted to promote Kus ama's work. It garnered huge amounts of media attention, as it was extremely controversial, and to this day is one of the artist's most famous images. 47 Yayoi Kusama more explicitly subjects the viewer to the experience of heightened sense of self throu gh loss of subjectivity in Kusama's Peep Show or Endless Love Show 1969 (Fig. 23 ). In these installation works that are open to the public, the artist enables the viewer to briefly experience the distortion of sense of self that informs her artistic philosophy. Kusama's Peep Show is an extension of the themes she develops in her phot o collages. Specifically, her photos make obvious her position as both artistic creator and object to be looked at. The Installations enable the viewer to physically take part in the experience of celebrity. The piece consists of a mirrored hexagonal ro om, pitch black except for pulsing flashes of light that illuminate the room like the gaudy Las Vegas Strip. The room is glitzy, intoxicating and seductive, like the salacious insides of a strip club. While scholars can view this environment through image s, the viewer would not be able to stand inside of it. Rather, there are eye level "peep" holes on each wall, mimicking actual peep shows, through which the viewer witnesses the room. Instead of becoming privy to the bawdy acts of "stars," the viewer see s him or herself, replicated to infinity in the mirrored !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 48. Hoptman, Yayoi Kusama 59
)$ walls, surrounded by flashing lights, "for all the world like a kinetic marquee." 48 Kusama subjects the viewer to the experience of fame : the endlessly replicated image potentially heightening one's s ense of self through sheer number, yet with the double edge of decreased subjectivity in each replication. In this way, the viewer enacts his or own simultaneous empowerment and demise. Before m oving back to Japan in 1973 Yayoi Kusama explored the th emes of free sexuality and resisting domination in greater complexity through performance art and Happenings. 49 Her involvement with this movement came as a natural step for the artist, whose collective body of photographs, critical reviews and promotional materials testify to the highly performative nature of her works, her career, and her life in general. 50 Her method of strictly controlling the audience's seeing, as described in Peep Show (Fig. 23 ), would be more explicit in her performance art pieces, as she blends the boundaries between art and environment, artist and audience, and subject and object. Kusama opens these barriers in efforts to enact control and extension of subjectivities, a th eme that extends through her works from the Infinity Nets to Accumulations and beyond, to the promotion of herself as mad artist, as celebrity, and as a woman. In her typical cyclical method of returning to themes that had interested her in earlier points of her life Kusama's later promotional images reflect the same tendencies as her early photographs. In Untitled 1994 (Fig. 24 ), the artist poses in front of a more recent Net painting. She occupies the direct center of the frame, leaning slightly toward !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 49. I bid. 50. Morris, Yayoi Kusama 64. 51. Ibid. 63.
)( t he viewer. In the past, the artist relied more on compositional devices and collage in order to present her unique persona T his photo is more aggressive. She wears the brightly colored wig she has adopted in recent years, and stares down the viewer. She a ggressively gazes at the viewer as if to announce her presence in the photograph and as an artist with a singular point of view. Kusama is both a constructed persona and an artist whose work represents a tangible struggle with mental illness. Untitled 2012 (Fig. 25 ), is also from a more recent point in time In this image, the artist wears a dress the same exact print as the painting behind her, in acrid yellow and black, pathogen like swirls. The documentary p hotographs discussed, (Figs. 19 22 ) 1959 1 964, depict the artist as distanced from the viewer and wholly immersed in her work. In these photographs, Kusama frequently drapes herself in polka dots or wears clothing covered in phalli. She has cut apart photographs of her limbs and her artwork, colla ging them together chaotically. Untitled 2012 almost appears similar to the collage works in which the artist creates herself as an abstraction, a female body in parts. By wearing clothing of the same print as the background and furniture on which she sit s, she challenges the viewer to distinguish construction from reality. While this photograph does not manipulate plane and perspective as do the collages, Kusama playfully alludes to the history of this technique in her past work. She is wholly a piece of art, the "Kusama" character which she references in recent interviews, and has managed to exert control over the forces of fear and chaos over her life. Kusama sits amongst chaos as if to announce her creative triumphs from within it. She rejoices, quietly in her success with her art career and personal rehabilitation.
)% Untitled 2012 (Fig. 25 ) reflects the artist's strength of vision in herself and her work. It was taken in light of her promotional work for the French fashion house Louis Vuitton. Kusama d o es not act the part of a docile young woman but rather enlightened cultural conspirator. Her hair and makeup, clothing and countenance are more extreme, more unique and, now, more culturally and geographically available. In the same way that the artist ha s commodified multiple aspects of her identity, from her poignant narrative of leaving Japan to her mental instability and fear of sex, she lends her body to this purpose. Kusama's 2012 collaboration with Louis Vuitton finally allows her to obliterate her own body: by leaving it and adopting a second, wax "self" in Untitled 2012 (Fig. 26 ). While it is currently unknown whether or not Kusama had a role in the creative direction of the collaboration, the results of the commercial partnership seem to fit perf ectly with the artist's interests. By associating her art, and by extension her life, with a brand, she alludes to the social and visual construction of oneself that operates in her art and in fashion. This process of re ification culminates in Fig. 26 as the artist has completely split off a separate identity. A wax figurine appears in one of the designer's storefront windows. A model standing in the window also adopts a flame haired wig, proving that "Kusama ness" has spread, like proliferating polka dots to those around her. Sitting in a wheel chair in front of the store window, Kusama answers press questions, dually asserting a profundity of creative vision and an ambiguous aura of the "other."
)) Conclusion Kusama's recent commercial collaborat ion and retrospective reaffirm her presence in the art world and contribute to her global fame. Throughout this process of achieving success, Kusama has aggressively promoted her art and her self as cultural commodities. Her work and her life are essentially insep arable, and she claims that her art practice is the only force that wills her to stay alive. 51 Although her career has lasted over 60 years and she continues to produce art, her style has revolved around a major theme Primarily, her mental illness has prov ided the impetus for her practice and informs both her subject matter and her process. Kusama is driven to create art as a means of alleviating the symptoms of her disorder. This method of alleviation takes the form of the repetition of symbols, patterns a nd themes. She is obsessed with concepts of death and becoming one with the universe Kusama's repetition of the Infinity Net pattern and the phallic object represents her desire for self obliteration. Yet, Kusama's tendency to depict her own demise exists simultaneously with the construction of her identity. By contextualizing some of Kusama's work with the works of her peers, I frame her art practice and theorizing of her own death with her assertion of her difference. Her aggressive promotion of herself enables her to both treat her mental illness and establish her own unique artistic identity in male dominated spheres. I extend Amelia Jones' research, which treats Kusama's photographs as performances of identity, to the Infinity Nets paintings and Accumu lation sculptures. In doing so, I hope to have shed light on some of the ways in which Kusama negotiates her sense of self in the public sphere. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 52. Damien Hirst and Yayoi Kusama, Across the Water: Interview with Damien Hirst (extract) 1998 Hoptman, ed. 136.
)* My comparison of Kusama's pre New York paintings to the Nets attempts to show the artist's articulation of her own perspective on the world. I link her past with her move to New York by showing the artist's concern with her own psychological state as it operates in figurative and abstract painting. Kusama's discussion of how her mental illness affects her work can prove problematic from a research perspective. Kusama asserts that her neuroses are the most important factor in considering her work. She denies any interest in art movements or external influences. I believe Kusama's work becomes a lot more nuanced when her public statements are not taken literally but as philosophies that guide the reception of her work. For exa mple, while she claims to have forgotten how to paint, research into her background has shown her fascination with different painting styles and modernist art movements. Kusama's continual assertion of the primacy of her mental condition to her work stands as a testament to her construction of her own identity. She has maintained a consistent "brand" for herself, purposely emphasizing her qualitie s as a mad artist and as a woman. Her assertion of her public image also begs the question of what extent of her persona is rea l and what is a publicity stunt. It would be too simplistic to categorize the artist as either completely in control of her publi c image or nave to it. While she is certainly a shrewd public figure, Kusama maintains a purposeful level of distance between herself and the public. Because this essay concentrates mainly on the pieces Kusama created while in New York, it falls short in creating substantial geographical context for her work. Kus ama only lived in New York for 15 years, and has worked in Japan ever since. The reason for scholars' lack of attention to how Japanese culture provides a background for
)+ her work may be the result of a language barrier. Still, more work needs to be done in integrating the several geographical and cultural frameworks in which Kusama's art developed. This essay focuses primarily on the New York years because they were a period of rapid development i n the artist' s work. Kusama moved quickly from one medium to the next and used each as a vehicle for the dissemination of her perspective. In addition, one of the artist's first big exhibitions in the United States dealt exclusively with this time period. 52 Scholars have tended to treat Kusama's work in strict c ategories: pre New York (1945 1957 ), New York (1958 1973) and her return to Japan (1973 present) Along with increasing research on Kusama's geographical contexts, further work should aim to not priv ilege her time in New York. Links should be drawn between different points in time in Kusama's development. Greater study of Kusama's life in Japan will aid in the negotiation of issues of identity as they operate in different cultural spheres In terms o f charting Kusama's development, I hope that my comparison of her work with Abstract Expressionism and Pop art helps to contextualize her New York work. I purposely avoided direct comparison between artists because Kusama's work does not need to be categor ized in relation to her contemporaries in order to retain its significance in modern and postmodern art I hope that I have shown that Kusama's work undoubtedly fits in w ith dialogues regarding twentieth century art historical movements, but ultimately, he r focus on her personal struggles marks her work as achieving different aims Though clearly, Yayoi Kusama suffers from real mental illness, her use of the !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 53. Kusama and Zelevansky, Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama 1958 1968 1998.
), concept of "self obliteration" functions strategically to challenge dominant modes of artistic practice and visual experience.
)! FIGURES Figure. 1. Eikoh Hosoe Infinity Mirror Room (Phalli's Field) 1965. Sewn stuffed fabric, mirrors, 11.8 x 11.8 x 10.6 ft. Installation, Yayoi Kusama's Floor Show', Castellane Gallery, New York. Image source: Hoptman, Yayoi Kusama 2000.
)' Figure 2. Yayoi Kusama Untitled 1966. Photocollage, 8 x 10 in. Ota Fine Arts. Imag e source: website of the Whitney Museum of Art. Figure 3. Yayoi Kusama. Accumulation of Corpses (Prisoner Surrounded by the Curtain of Depersonalization) 1950. National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. Image source: website of the Tate Modern.
*. Figure 4. Y ayoi Kusama Lingering Dream 1949. P igment on paper, 53.75 59.75 in. Collection of the artist. Image source: website of the Whitney Museum. Figure 5. Yayoi Kusama God of the Wind 1955. Image source: Francis Morris, Yayoi Kusama 2012.
*$ Figure 6. Yayoi Kusama Phosphorescence in the Day c. 1950. Image source: Francis Morris, ed., Yayoi Kusama 2012. Figure 7. Yayoi Kusama Germ ,1952. Image source: Francis Morris, Yayoi Kusama 2012.
*( Figure 8. Yayoi Kusama No. D. (detail), 1959. Oil on Canvas, 35. X 28. In. Collection of the Donald Judd Estate. Image source: Thomas Frick, ed., Yayoi Kusama 1998. Figure 9. Yayoi Kusama Pacific Ocean 1960. Oil on Canvas, 72 x 72. in. Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. Image source: Thomas Frick, ed., Yayoi Kusama 1998.
*% Figure 10. Yayoi Kusama F ilm still from Kusama's Self Obliteration 1967. Film. Image source: arttattler.com Figur e 11. Yayoi Kusama. Film st ill from Kusama's Self Obliteration 1967. Film Image source: dontpaniconline.com
*) Figure 12. Yayoi Kusama Accumulation no. 1 1962. Sewn stuffed fabric, paint, fringe on chair frame. 37 x 39 x 42 in. Beatrice Perry Family Collection. Image source: Francis Morris, ed., Yayoi Kusama 2012. Figure 13. Yayoi Kusama Accumulation no. 2 1962. Sewn stuffed fabric, paint on sofa frame. 35 x 88 x 40.25 in. Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College. Image source: Francis Morris, ed., Yayoi Kusama 2012.
** Figure 14. Yayoi Kusama Documentary image from the Green Gallery Show, 1962. Photograph. Image source: website of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Figure 15. Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe Diptych, 1962. Acrylic on canvas, 80.9 114 in. The Tate Britain Image source: website of the Tate Modern.
*+ Figure 16. Yayoi Kusama Untitled Accumulation 1964. Sewn stuffed fabric, ten pairs of women's shoes, paint, variable dimensions. Retrospective at the Whitney, 2012. Anzai Art Office Inc. Image source: wnyc.org. Figure 17. Yayoi Kusama Baby Carriage 1964 6. Sewn stuffed fabric, bab y carriage, stuffed toy kangaroos, paint. 38 x 23.25 x 40 in. The Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Image Courtesy of Thomas Frick, ed., Yayoi Kusama 1998.
*, Figure 18. Yayoi Kusama Installation view, Driving Image Show 1964. Variable dimension s. Castallane Gallery, New York. Image source: Lynn Hoptman, ed., Yayoi Kusama 2000. Figure 19. Yayoi Kusama Untitled (Kusama in her New York Studio), 1958 9. Photograph. Image source: Francis Morris, ed., Yayoi Kusama 2012.
*! Figure 20. Yayoi Kusama Untitled 1959. Photograph. Stephen Radich Gallery, New York Image source: artnet.com. Figure 21. Yayoi Kusama Untitled ( Kusama in front of her 33 foot white Infinity Net painting), 1959. Photograph. Image source: Francis Morris, ed., Yayoi Kusama 2012.
*' Figure 22. Yayoi Kusama Untitled Exhibition poster, Driving Image Show 1964 Image source: NCF MDID.
+. Figure 23. Yayoi Kusama Installation view, Kusama's Peep Show or Endless Love Show 1969. Image source: NCF MDID. Figure 24. Yayoi Kusama Untitled 2012. Photograph. Image source: website of the Whitney Museum of Art, New York.
+$ Figure 25. Yayoi Kusama Untitled 2012. Photograph. Image source: NCF MDID. Figure 26 Yayoi Kusama Untitled 2012. Photograph of Kusama's Louis Vuit ton press conference. Image source: website of Louis Vuitton.
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