The Tate Modern has done it again, with another brilliant blockbuster exhibition that we highly recommend you go and see if you’re in London between now and June. This time it’s a retrospective of Japanese superstar artist Yayoi Kusama, whose signature polka dots have decorated everything from naked human bodies in 1960s New York to the trees that line London’s South Bank more recently in 2009.
Kusama is a complex artist with a fascinating personal history, and this exhibition is a chronological insight into her artistic career – a career that spans more than five decades. Born into a wealthy Japanese family, Kusama grew up in a country that was desecrated by World War II. Plagued by psychological difficulties from a young age, Kusama left home in her early twenties and went to New York where she found a vibrant art scene that was swinging with all the exuberance of the sixties, and which was ready to share her highly unusual view of the world.
For just over ten years Kusama stormed the New York scene, befriending the major artists of the time and staging large-scale art events that often ended up with her being arrested. At the end of it all she suffered a mental breakdown, returned to Japan and checked herself into a mental hospital in Tokyo where she remains until today, still producing a steady output of work that can be seen in the exhibition.
The Tate follows Kusama’s progress as an artist from the hallucinatory paintings of her youth spent in war torn Japan, to the obsessive Infinity Net paintings at the beginning of her time in New York, through video footage of some of her wild ‘Happenings’ in the city and later her large scale sculptures. The polka dots are a leitmotif throughout most of her work, appearing in strange imagined early landscapes and continuing in paintings and videos until they culminate in her truly spectacular Infinity Room at the end – for us, the high point of the exhibition. We won’t tell you what it is as we don’t want to ruin the surprise, but it truly is an awe-inspiring experience!
There has never been an exhibition of this size of Kusama’s work in the UK. After it finishes at the Tate in June it will travel to the Whitney Museum in New York so if you miss it here you’ll catch it there. Either way, it’s an absorbing and fascinating exhibition of an artist that is entirely unlike any other, and we guarantee you’ll walk away feeling inspired.