December 6, 1998

Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958-1968 at Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958-1968
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
December 13, 1998 - March 7, 1999

More than any other postwar Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama (b.1929, Japan) has influenced the form and direction of artistic production in the United States. Between 1958, when she arrived in New York City, and the late 1960s, when performance began to dominate her art, she created a body of work that made a widely known and highly significant contribution to the contemporary scene. A comprehensive exhibition of works from this period, Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958-1968 is co-organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Japan Foundation, in collaboration with The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The exhibition is the first at a U.S. museum to focus on Yayoi Kusama's work. It includes more than 50 paintings, collages, and sculptures from Yayoi Kusama's New York period, as well as reconstructions of three of the artist's precedent-setting environmental installations.
"Kusama's work has been dominated by a marathon dance of production that obliterates any separation between art and life," said Lynn Zelevansky, co-curator of the exhibition. "She and her art are wedded so inextricably that it is impossible to tell where one begins and the other leaves off. In confronting the depth and breadth of her work one encounters an unusually raw form of invention."
Combining aspects of surrealism and abstract expressionism with elements from minimalism and pop art, Yayoi Kusama's work proved remarkably prescient of post-minimalism in the United States, a nascent trend that would not fully emerge until the latter half of the 1960s. It also set precedents for artwork focusing on the body that has been produced by some of today's most influential younger artists. Yet up until very recently Yayoi Kusama remained little known in the West, her vital contribution to contemporary art largely overlooked. Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958-1968 explores the decade that Yayoi Kusama lived and worked in New York. The exhibition premiered at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in March 1998 followed by a stop at The Museum of Modern Art. Following its showing in Minneapolis, it will travel to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo (April 29 July 4, 1999).

Yayoi Kusama gained attention shortly after arriving in New York by producing a series of paintings of the late 1950s and early 1960s that are covered with all-over "nets" of pattern. These almost monochromatic paintings, which she called Infinity Nets, are made up of a single element that is repeated to cover an entire, often very large, canvas, edge to edge. In the early 1960s, Yayoi Kusama began working in other media. Collages of air-mail and file-folder labels constitute a visual pun on the new minimal art that is unusual in its mix of elegance and humor.

Her sculpture consists of household furniture and mundane objects covered with stuffed phallus-like protrusions, forecasting a preoccupation with the body. Her first sculpture, Accumulation No. 1 (1962) was made using a frame of an old armchair as a support covered with stuffed phallic protrusions sewn from canvas. Yayoi Kusama's sculptures from this period were handmade and extremely labor-intensive. In Ironing Board (1963) a steam iron sits, face down, threatening to scorch a sea of phalluses covering the surface.

By 1965 she had introduced a profusion of color into her sculpture through the use of dotted and striped fabrics. Red Stripes (1965) consists of phallic forms sewn from red and white striped fabric, stuffed and mounted onto a wood backing. In her food obsession sculptures Yayoi Kusama applied dried macaroni to the surfaces of clothing and accessories. Macaroni Handbag (1965) is a simple purse covered with pasta, and then painted gold.

The exhibition includes reconstructions of three of Yayoi Kusama's installations: Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show (1964), Infinity Mirror Room (1965), and Narcissus Garden (1966). In Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show , a protrusion-covered rowboat sits within a room papered with thousands of black-and-white reproductions of the same boat. Infinity Mirror Room consists of a four-sided mirrored room in which the floor has been taken over by red and white dotted phalluses. These are endlessly reflected and multiplied, along with the viewer, creating a dazzling and seemingly infinite space.

Yayoi Kusama's Narcissus Garden marks a pivotal moment in the artist's transition from installation to performance. It was created at the Venice Biennale in 1966. She was neither invited to show nor given permission to present her art that year at the Biennale, but her outdoor installation garnered a great deal of attention. The "garden" consisted of 1,500 identical mirrored balls spread across the lawns outside the Italian pavilion. At the Walker this work will be installed in the South house of the Cowles Conservatory in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

YAYOI KUSAMA was born in 1929 in Japan and arrived in New York in 1958 at the age of 29. During the period in review, her work was shown extensively in the United States and Europe. In New York, she exhibited with major painters and sculptors of the time, among them Claes Oldenburg, Robert Morris, and Andy Warhol. Abroad, she was included in exhibitions of the Nul and Zero groups, together with such figures as Yves Klein and Piero Manzoni. After her return to Japan in the early 1970s, Yayoi Kusama was largely forgotten in this country. Recently, however, she has regained prominence, largely due to renewed interest and enthusiasm from a younger generation of artists.

The exhibition is accompanied by a 192-page catalogue with essays by co-curators Lynn Zelevansky, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Laura Hoptman, Assistant Curator, Department of Drawing, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and by two noted scholars of contemporary Japanese art, Alexandra Munroe and Akira Tatehata. The volume, published by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, contains 94 color and 52 black-and-white illustrations.

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