After In Infinity, the solo exhibition at Moderna Museet in Stockholm held last year, Yayoi Kusama celebrates her 87 years old with Infinity Mirrors, a brand new international exhibition at Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Park in Washington DC. Lose yourselves in Yayoi Kusama’s infinity measurable by polka dots and find again your way obliterating yourselves with no mercy. Sometimes there’s nothing more rational than madness.
Yayoi Kusama’s Melancholy
That day Michelangelo arrived in the chapel a bit late, but nobody saw him. He suddenly started finishing Bartholomew, and he realised that maybe he represented him too similar to Pietro Aretino. Painting the knife, Bartholomew’s face became a monster mask. Michelangelo didn’t know anymore what was the reality and what was not. Thus, he painted that monster representing himself like a lifeless empty skin. For the moment, he drove the monster out.
After a couple of centuries was the turn of Francisco Goya to lose himself among epileptic hallucinations. Then arrived the craziest artist ever: Vincent Van Gogh followed by the painter of possessed totem cats Louis Wain and the chronic depressed Munch. And what about Pollock’s self-destroying damned genius? A whole day wouldn’t be enough to mention all the crazy artists of the history. The relation between genius and madness is for sure the most common topic for high school final dissertation and one the the most controversial issue for psychology and aesthetics.
Even though Michelangelo could be very far from the idea we have of Yayoi Kusama, both of them can be included in the Aristotelian concept of “melancholy makes a man genius” and in Platonic idea of “divine fury”. The idea of “crazy artist” comes from the Greek heritage -like mostly everything in the West- and it was wisely manipulated by Romantics and by avantgarde art directors: the more you are crazy, the more you sell.
Yayoi Kusama leaves Japan to US in 1957 when she was 27. Yayoi has always had mental problems since she had her first vision when she was 10. She decides to move to US inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s second-hand book, found in a shop in Mastumoto, her hometown in Japan. When she arrives in New York, watching the forest of skyscrapers from the Empire State Building, she promises herself that it will be the city where she will make it.
Is this the American dream, isn’t it? How many other people faced the ocean to find the freedom under the American flag? But Yayoi was braver, so brave to be mad. Yayoi was a woman who wanted to be an artist in a deeply sexist and conservative country. A country featured by a strong antagonism with the West since, among other things, probably Japan could have won the war if Americans hadn’t dropped the atomic bombs. Yayoi, in fact, will make it in New York, but she will never be American. She will come back in Tokyo at the beginning of ‘70s moving into a mental clinic, where she still lives, close to her studio.
Yayoi has no money, nobody knows her and New York is a jungle. She paints the same thing over and over again, with no breaks, covering whatever she can around her. She paints even herself. While she paints, she forgets to eat, to drink and the fact that windows are broken in her studio even though outside is winter. With a workaholism and a resistance that only a Japanese can have she keeps on repeating the same gesture endlessly. It is this chronic obsession that bring Infinity Nets series to life. Her first solo exhibition Obsessional Monochrome was held in New York in 1959 marking the beginning of a timeless success and the first of Yayoi’s artistic experimentation towards the exploration of infinity.
Obliteration as a therapy
What came first, the chicken or the egg? Is art the cause or the consequence of Yayoi’s neurosis? Her hallucinations and her mental ill cannot be unbinded from her artistic identity and production. Since she was a child the artist perceives the artistic process as a therapy to exorcise her visions and manage her madness.
Yayoi paints what she’s scared about digging in the bottom of her soul with no censorship. Through the compulsive repetition of a specific element, first of all the polka dot, Yayoi Kusama activates a therapeutic process namely Obliteration. Thanks to the obliteration she creates an infinitive space where she can lose herself taking part of the universe and she can find again the right way through an orderly and maniacal reiteration of the same subject.
“As I repeated this process over and over again, the nets began to expand to infinity. I forgot about myself as they enveloped me, clinging to my arms and legs and clothes and filling the room.”
The polka dot is Yayoi’s weapon to deal with the infinity, reaching its further boundaries. The moon, the sun and the earth are all polka dots. Polka dots, as tiny particles on the universe, connect each other creating a big net. In the documentary Self Obliteration, Yayoi tries to tell this therapeutical process similar to a cathartic abstraction by obliterating herself and the world around her.
Obliteration becomes first a ritual, then an avantgarde and finally a trend. Everyone in the artistic scene of New York wants to be obliterated. Thus, Yayoi goes out from her studio starting to paint on the street making the body her new canva. Walking naked a covered by white polka dots, she becomes a symbol of political protest and a pioneer of a new generation of artists who will lead to pop art wave. The installation Obliteration Room appeared for the first time at Tate in London in 2012 allows visitors to experience personally the obliteration process in order to recall that atmosphere created by Yayoi in New York during the ‘60s.
With the same process Yayoi Kusama paints compulsively her nightmares choosing her deepest fears as subjects of her works. The production of phallic sculptures recalls Yayoi sex-phobia and her perception of sex as something dirty. In the same way, objects covered by macaroni show her repulsion for food. Only reproducing the subject of her phobia again and again through obliteration, Yayoi is able to overtake the fear.
From obliteration amazing minimalist artworks came to like. Minimalism as a therapeutical process is not new to Japanese culture and we can find it in different artistic expression such as Japanese design and architecture.
Infinity inside a Room
Polka Dots are for Yayoi Kusama the unit to measure the infinity. Through obliteration, the universe has a beginning and an end. Paradoxically, Yayoi uses the Enlightenment approach of discovering and understanding the reality through the measurement of the reality itself. In this way, she found a way to enclose infinity in only one room.
Thanks to the combination between mirrors and the reiteration of a singular element, Yayoi challenges the concept of space and time. Going inside one of her Infinity Rooms it’s like travelling in a colorful and futuristic elsewhere. It is a room with four walls but with no beginning neither end at the same time. It is the perfect place to lose and find again ourselves.
Yayoi’s infinity it’s not so scary. In Asia the idea of infinity is not so abstract as in the West. Traditionally, we use a linear thinking process which assumes a beginning and an end. On the contrary, in Asia people have a circular thinking process which means that the beginning and the end are only two points in a circle. Thus, infinity is not something beyond the end, but the place where we actually exist. For this reason, the exploration of the infinity is at the same time the exploration of the soul like in My Eternal Soul series.
“My desire was to predict and measure the infinity of the unbounded universe, from my own position in it, with dots”
Is there something more fascinating than lose yourselves in infinity? This is Yayoi’s power. She is able to bring us in another measurable metaphysical dimension where rational meets irrational. There you can abandoned yourselves with no fears because you can find your way following polka dots.
Many stylists decided to explore Yayoi’s infinity too with colorful texture and special editions. Louis Vuitton realized a capsule collections entirely dedicated to Yayoi Kusama transforming models in contemporary Alice in Wonderland. Even Adele wanted to feel like Alice and last year held an exhibition at The Broad in LA and at the Brits Awards singing ‘When We Were Young’ inside Yayoi’s room The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away.
If you want to get in the queue to experience Yayoi Kusama’s infinity, you can visit until May 14th Infinity Mirrors in Washington DC or at Permanente in Milan until July 23rd you can enter into the mirror room All the Eternal Love I have for the Pumpkins, masterpiece of the exhibition Love. Last year during an out-of-town trip in Stockholm, Polpettas visited In Infinity at Moderna Museet hanging around polka dot after polka dot.