There is something indescribable, or perhaps indefinable, about Yayoi Kusama’s eclectic body of work. It is simple but complex, frenetic but fastidious. Her work seems to occupy both ends of every spectrum, and perhaps this is a reflection on the artist herself—impossible to confine within the parameters of limiting labels. Her polka dots are iconic, her pumpkins are ingenious, her infinity rooms are dazzling.
I first became mesmerised with Yayoi Kusama’s famous pumpkin installations during my first trip to Japan on Naoshima Island, and I’ve also seen her work at the MOMA in New York. I’ve seen many an Instagram picture of her spell-binding infinity rooms, so when I heard that the Yayoi Kusama Museum was opening in Tokyo for a limited period (it runs until 25 February 2018), there was no better reason to return to one of my all-time favourite cities.
On a cool October morning, we made our way to the Yayoi Kusama Museum. The building itself is inconspicuous, minimalist and unnotable except for the trademark swirling pattern of white dots sprayed across the glass panels. It’s bizarre how much joy polka dots can inject in a person, but I suppose that’s the very reason why we are here: time to get dotty.
We are led into the lobby by attendants and quickly briefed: we have 1.5 hours to explore (tickets are timed entry), the first two floors are artworks and no photography is allowed, the third floor has an infinity room and the top floor a reading space and new installation created specifically for the museum. The excitement in the room is palpable and you can see everyone’s mind ticking over: should they view the floors in order; should they start from the top–down; would 1.5 hours be enough? It turns out 1.5 hours was more than enough time, as the building is quite small despite taking up 4 floors.
Up we went. The first floor is lined with white-and-black paintings from the ‘Love Forever’ collection. Repetition is evident in Yayoi’s sculptures and installations. It can also be seen in her paintings, and in particular this series, in which silhouettes of faces, lines and dots are duplicated. There is a membranous and nucleate quality that brings the work to life; the effect is such that the lines seem to jump out at you, such is the depth of the work. On first glance, it may seem simple, but up close the details and the precision are obvious. There is purpose behind every line, every concentrated area of ink, every sparse corner.
The second floor houses new paintings from Yayoi Kusuma’s ‘My Eternal Soul’ series. These artworks are more eclectic, spontaneous, and lacking the exactness of the paintings from the ‘Love Forever’ collection. Brighter colours are used, and the works are messier, more child-like. Some works even resemble the Australian Indigenous dot paintings, albeit fashioned in more colourful hues than the earthy tones of traditional Aboriginal art. Although I found these works less visually appealing, I felt that they told more of a story and perhaps provided a deeper glimpse into the world of the artist.
On the third floor, there was the pumpkin infinity room. It was a small room and groups were given only 90 seconds to spend in the room. We were lucky to have only 2 other visitors go in at the same time as us, which gave us all a good opportunity to take photos of the luminescent pumpkins. Honestly, I could have stood in the room for an hour watching the glass pumpkins light up, bit by bit, before reaching their full crescendo.
On the last floor, there is a reading room of books about Yayoi Kusama’s art and a new pumpkin installation created especially for the Yayoi Kusama Museum. The pumpkin is kept inside an uncovered courtyard, a glittering ball of gold and pink mosaiced tiles in stark contrast to the minimalist white walls and grey skies surrounding it.
By this stage, we realised that it had only taken us about 30 minutes to go through the entire exhibition. However, we didn’t leave without taking selfies in the polka-dotted elevator and bathroom, and picking up a Yayoi-printed scarf from the gift shop. (The pumpkin clutch purse was cute, but the hefty price tag was not so much.)
Although the Yayoi Kusama Museum was quite compact, it was still a spectacular experience to be able to see her work in her home country. Her range as an artist is apparent, from her installations to her paintings, and I’m glad that I was able to see some of her paintings in person. Yayoi forever!
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