Kusama's opening night at TA art museum takes viewers back to childhood

Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's exhibition opened last week at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

 YAYOI KUSAMA’s ‘The Spirits of the Pumpkin’ at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.  (photo credit: SHARON LUXENBURG)
YAYOI KUSAMA’s ‘The Spirits of the Pumpkin’ at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
(photo credit: SHARON LUXENBURG)

I was one of the lucky ones who got invited to the opening night of Yayoi Kusama’s exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art last week, bringing together artworks produced over an 80-year period.

Kusama is well known for her use of dense patterns of polka dots and nets, as well as her intense, large-scale environments.

Ranked as one of the best and biggest art exhibitions of 2021, I was so excited to hear it was coming to Israel, since the last time I saw Kusama art was two years ago on the southern Japanese island of Naoshima .

Since the pandemic, tourism stopped completely and entering the Land of the Rising Sun remains challenging.

“The public thirsts for exciting quality experiences, particularly now, in the post- COVID-19 period with all its difficulties,” said Tania Coen-Uzzielli, director of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

 Yayoi Kusama in a photograph taken by Yusuke Miyazaki. (credit: YAYOI KUSAMA OTA FINE ARTS VICTORIA MIRO DAVID ZWIRNER) Yayoi Kusama in a photograph taken by Yusuke Miyazaki. (credit: YAYOI KUSAMA OTA FINE ARTS VICTORIA MIRO DAVID ZWIRNER)

Kusama has worked with numerous media, such as painting, collage, sculpture, video, performance, installation, fashion, literature and music, and she also made two new monuments that were created specifically for the current exhibition.

And, indeed, when I stepped into the museum I could feel the anticipation.

It wasn’t a regular night – Yayoi Kusama is one of the most creative and important artists of our time.

Food and drink were abundant and excited guests held their glasses while talking about the countries in which they last saw Kusama’s works. Then Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and Japanese Ambassador Koichi Mizushima introduced the people who worked behind the scenes to make the event possible, officially opening the exhibition.

And then the fun began. People strolled around the large museum taking selfies and filming videos, (she is after all the most tagged artist on social media), observing the obsessive patterns of dots and nets covering surfaces with ceaseless repetition, blurring the boundaries between figure and the surrounding world. It felt like a large-scale amusement park designed just for adults.

Kusama tells the story of how when she was a little girl she had a hallucination that freaked her out. She was in a field of flowers when they all started talking to her. The heads of flowers were like dots that went on as far as she could see, and she felt as if she was disappearing, or as she calls it “self-obliterating” – into this field of endless dots. This weird experience influenced most of her later works. By adding marks and dots to her paintings, drawings, objects and clothes, she feels as if she is making them (and herself) melt into, and become part of, the bigger universe.

As I walked through the long (and extremely colorful) corridors I felt something about those dots make people regress to a childlike state, the bright colors and the large scale of the monuments definitely resemble something surreal from my childhood, something naive and happy and safe.

I can’t help but wonder, is this Kusama’s secret?

It reminds us all that deep down inside we are just kids who are looking to have some fun.