82 year-old Yayoi Kusama’s colourful, large, all encompassing works are, at first glance, fun, vibrant and exciting. Delve deeper into the Japanese artists’ paintings, sculptures and installations and you see an overwhelming struggle with obliteration, patriarchy and self-space spanning over six decades.
Kusama is Japan’s most famous living artist and made her name in New York in the 50s and 60s when she produced flowers with spiky inners and threatening red caves -- seen currently at the Tate Modern’s exhibition until 5 June.
Since 1977 Kusama has lived voluntarily in a psychiatric institution, and many of the works shown at the Tate are marked with obsessiveness and a desire to escape from psychological trauma. In an attempt to share her experiences, she creates installations that immerse the viewer in her obsessively charged vision of endless dots and nets or infinitely mirrored space.
It is after the Tate reveals this fact that the works become more disturbing and Kusama’s mental illness is highlighted with the repetitious, hallucinogenic, ominous nature of the spots and phallic, spongy white shapes covering inane objects.
She is renowned for her “environments’ and this exhibition is one after the other, with seeminingly no escape.
As the 1960s progressed, Kusama moved from painting, sculpture and collage to installations, films, performances and ‘happenings’ as well as political actions, counter-cultural events, fashion design and publishing.
The exhibition includes Kusama’s iconic film Kusama’s Self-Obliteration 1968, capturing this period of performative experimentation -- one of the more disturbing parts of the exhibition!
The last work -- before which a Tate worker asks if “you have seen the whole exhibition?” prior to letting you in -- is a new installation and a highlight of the exhibition for me. Infinity Mirrored Room - Filled with the Brilliance of Life 2011, is Kusama’s largest mirrored room to date and is filled with hanging lights changing colour creating infinite space and movement.