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Yayoi Kusama

b. 1929

Yayoi Kusama, Fireflies on the Water, 2002. Mirror, plexiglass, 150 lights, and water, 111 × 144 1/2 × 144 1/2 in. (281.9 × 367 × 367 cm) overall. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Postwar Committee and the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee and partial gift of Betsy Wittenborn Miller  2003.322a-tttttttt
Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist who lived and worked in the United States from 1957 until 1973. A hallmark of much of her work is an almost obsessive interest in repetition. In her paintings she carefully fills every inch of the canvas with intricate dot or net patterns. She made this collage with hundreds of air mail stickers. Kusama covers the surfaces of furniture, clothing, or canvases with repeated images and makes mirrored spaces that seem to go on forever as a way to create a sense of what she calls “self-obliteration .”

Yayoi Kusama and Georgia O’Keeffe

Before moving to the United States, Kusama wrote a letter to artist Georgia O’Keeffe asking for advice on developing her career as an artist in America: “I should like to ask you would [you] kindly show me the way to approach this life.”

O’Keeffe wrote back, “When you get to New York take your pictures under your arm and show them to anyone you think may be interested.” The two artists had a lot in common: both women’s work was inspired by forms in nature, and both painted flowers. Kusama and O’Keeffe remained friends for many years.

About the Artist
Kusama at age 10, 1939. Collection of Yayoi Kusama. Image courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc.; Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo; Victoria Miro Gallery, London


Kusama’s inspiration comes from her desire to make art as a way of healing herself. In her autobiography she wrote: “I fight pain, anxiety, and fear every day, and the only method I have found that relieves my illness is to keep creating art. I followed the thread of art and somehow discovered a path that would allow me to live.” 

MORE WORK BY Yayoi Kusama