are more powerful than death'
fig.: Yayoi Kusama, The Peep Show: Endless Love Show, Castellane Gallery, New York, 1966, Foto: Hal Reiff, Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo
obsessive objects, installations, and environments, Yayoi Kusama, one
of the most versatile and internationally most successful contemporary
artists from Japan, has won much attention since the 1960s. Kusama's
universe is made up from dots and infinite meshwork structures, which
characteristically proliferate from watercolors, drawings, and paintings
onto objects and entire rooms. Neighboring on Pop Art, Minimalism, and
Abstract Expressionism, Kusama has developed an oeuvre which is strongly
informed by political and feminist issues as well as by mystical ideas
and which she prefers to refer to as 'obsessional art'.
studies of classical Japanese Nihonga painting, Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929
in Japan) broke away from the narrowness of her parental home and the
Japanese society in 1958 and went to New York City to find the freedom
she needed to pursue her artistic work
of 'self-obliteration' is also crucial to the nude performances, announced
as body and love performances, which Kusama made, beginning in the mid-60s,
mainly in public places in New York City. These performances responded
to virulent political issues of the era such as the Nixon affair or
the Vietnam War, or related to cultural political developments such
as the increasing commercialization of the art market. Thus Kusama expressed
criticism of established art-world conventions at the 1966 Venice Biennale
when she, in a spontaneous action, offered the silver balls from her
outdoor Narcissus Garden installation to visitors for sale, for two
In the 1960s, Kusama's work was read in America in the context of Pop Art, Minimal Art , or Abstract Expressionism. Her 'Infinity Nets', paintings without composition consisting of endless net structures, at first sight seem to combine the painterly approach of Abstract Expressionism with the reduced aesthetics of Minimal Art. Her collages and furniture objects, in which the principle of serialization is applied on the basis of everyday objects, were seen as related to pieces by pop artists like Warhol, Rosenquist, or Oldenburg. However, Kusama does not comment mass culture; unlike the industrial materials and makings of minimal art, her objects are deliberately given organic shaves and have a handmade quality. And while Zero and other groups of the 'New Tendency' in Europe, in whose exhibitions Kusama participated in Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands in the 60s, made the artist-subject step to the background, placing the focus on explorations of material, color, light and motion instead, Kusama's personality, with all her inherent contradictions, is inscribed in each of her pieces, and self-enactment is an integral part of her oeuvre.
In 1974, Kusama returned to Japan and started to write autobiographical narrative texts and poems about her New York time and experience, which are read by a growing community of Japanese fans and have received literary awards. It took until the late 1980s that her significance as a visual artist for both younger generations of artists and art history was rediscovered and appreciated in numerous exhibitions. In 1993, she was the first artist ever to be given a single exhibition at the Venice Biennale Japanese pavilion.
exhibition features new room installations which, in the playful and
obsessive manner they incorporate repetitive structures and reflections,
carry the disintegration of object and surrounding space, as intended
by Kusama, to a new height. Against the background of an encompassing
exhibition design by the Pauhof architectural team, which takes up the
ideas of reflection and repetition, Kusama's infinite universes become
a palpable experience in the environments.
of Kunsthalle Wien in collaboration with Le Consortium, Dijon and Studio
We thank our sponsors ANA, All Nippon Airways and the Embassy of Japan for their support as well as Prodomo for the loan of the furniture for the installation 'I'm here but nothing'.