Yayoi Kusama’s first retrospective in France is currently held at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Kusama left her mark on the second half of the twentieth century, reaching a peak of great artistic achievement in the sixties, and gaining media attention both in Europe and the United States. During that time, she started working intensely and created a body of work that was distinctive amongst the kind of aesthetic prevalent at the time.
As introduction to the retrospective, a small room presents her famous polka dots. Following this, the show begins with small-scale, surreal paintings; early works that she is not famous for. Then one progresses on to her New York period. Large-scale canvas paintings, the Infinity Nets, are covered in a series of white dots on grey monochrome backgrounds. These dots, which developed from a hallucination she had during her childhood, were to become her trademark. Next are her sculptural pieces; objects, furniture onto which stuffed objects are attached- accumulations of phallic protuberances- which she titled the banana chairs. Around the same time, she started producing ‘happenings’, which echoed the Peace and Love movement in the 1960s in New York, and are duly documented in the show.
Yayoi Kusama returned to Japan in 1973. In this last part of the exhibition the viewer is placed at the centre of Kusama’s obsessive hallucinations. Whilst there is a determination to exist and a craving for attention from outside of her inner world, there is also a desire to disappear. The repetition of ad infinitum places us in a universe where we have no other fate than to disappear, being part of a multitude. It reminded me of playing, as a child, in between two mirrors- looking at my image repeated endlessly and gradually vanishing into the void.
Kusama had a vision from early on, and expressed it using a variety of media, from paintings, to sculptures, and then through live art. If making art is a cure for the artist, her whole work reveals a strong will to break moral and social constraints, and push the boundaries.
Video of Yayoi Kusama and her work by BBC Three: