A comprehensive exhibition of works by legendary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is set to open next Monday at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, offering a near-total immersion in the intensely colorful and personal vision of the 92-year-old global phenomenon.
Patrons will be able to visit four of Kusama’s infinity rooms, mirrored art spaces with poetic names such as Phalli’s Field (1965) – the first such space – the 2015 The Spirits of the Pumpkin descended into the heavens and The Eternally Infinite Light of the Universe Illuminating the Quest for Truth, created especially for this exhibition. Roughly eight decades of artistic efforts will be on display, from a drawing Kusama made as a child featuring her now-famous dots, to paintings created for this exhibition.
By crossing the bridge between the two parts of the museum, visitors will progress from early works to recent ones. Visitors can also enjoy a Kusama-inspired menu at Pastel, the museum restaurant, and watch the 2018 documentary Kusama: Infinity. A Hebrew translation of the 2017 children’s book Yayoi Kusama: From Here to Infinity by art curator Sarah Suzuki, will also be on sale.
When Louis Vuitton released a special collection based on Kusama’s art in 2012, the items sold out within days, Glenn Scott Wright, co-director of the Victoria Miro Gallery told me. He asked the people at the fashion company if they were pleased with the results, and learned that while sales were indeed good, the media exposure their brand gained was the real prize. [The Victoria Miro gallery represents Kusama].
What makes Kusama’s art so powerful? As Wright sees it, “she is one of the very few artists able to straddle both high and low art.” Her works are “instantaneous,” he suggested, meaning people can connect to them in a flash, without much preparation.
In a 2019 podcast about Kusama, art dealer David Zwirner invited JiaJia Fei to share her perspective. Fei, who now leads her own art-world-focused digital media agency, said that “the modern museum experience is more about the performance of going to a museum,” than, for example, going to a museum to learn about another civilization.
“Now,” she offered, “it is about getting that one deliverable, the photograph, and that kind of spurs this entire engagement around going somewhere to perform this life that people think that you have.” (Kusama’s 2019 exhibition Every Day I Pray for Love was shown at the David Zwirner New York City gallery).
Visitors to the upcoming Tel Aviv exhibition will be informed that although they may take selfies at the infinity rooms (and tag them as #InfiniteKusama, if they wish) they should limit their stay there to 30 seconds. Based on the experience of other Kusama exhibitions, such steps are necessary, since controlling the audience would otherwise be very difficult.
KUSAMA WAS mentored by artist Georgia O’Keeffe and was a working artist in 1960s New York, where she mixed with many of the leading figures of that time. Sadly, she was often sidelined and encountered many hardships. Eventually, she returned to Japan, and in 1977 she voluntarily checked herself into a mental hospital, where she has continued to live and create until today.
This, perhaps, is one more reason people around the world relate to Kusama. Not only is the art gorgeous, but the life story behind it is also moving. It contains many familiar themes: the artist being touched by the gods, overcoming hardships, and operating in a different universe than the rest of us. The shift toward female artists and the interest in their works have also contributed to her popularity.
Wright had seen Kusama’s art presented in exhibitions for a decade before he saw her during the 1993 Venice Biennale. Kusama, who was banned from the event in 1966 after a guerrilla performance, must have felt vindicated. Wright remembered seeing her “with an artistic pumpkin on her head giving pumpkins to people.” He would later visit her studio and even share cake with her on her birthday.
“I have worked with many artists and she is by far the hardest working one,” he said. “To still be painting at age 92 is incredible.”
Now there is a waiting list of museums that would delight in showing Kusama’s work, he said, noting that curator Suzanne Landau, one of the main forces behind this exhibition, is “extremely well known and respected.” He pointed out this retrospective was “discussed for roughly eight years,” making it a game-changing one.
“Tel Aviv is a small city,” Wright said, “but the Jewish diaspora plays a key role in the art world.” He added that in his view, Tel Aviv “should be a lot more important” in the global art scene.
Kusama in Israel just might be that threshold moment.
“Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective” will open on Monday, November 15 and close on Saturday, April 23, 2022. Curated by Stephanie Rosenthal and Suzanne Landau. The exhibition is organized by Gropius Bau, Berlin, in collaboration with the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
Opening hours: Monday noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday 10 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Friday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tickets begin at NIS 65. Many dates already have been sold out, so book ahead as soon as possible.
Visitors are limited to spending one hour at the exhibition and must arrive at the time selected when they booked the ticket. Visit: https://tickets.tamuseum.org.il/en or call (03) 6077020. The Tel Aviv Museum of Art is at 27 Shaul Hamelech Boulevard.