Yayoi Kusama calls herself an “aspiring artist”. This coming from an artist who is 83 years old with a career that has spanned more than six decades, exploring a range of media: painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, collage, film and video, performance and installation. Currently, Kusama is one of Japan’s most famous living artists. She is recognized for working in a prolific manner, producing works in bulk despite the technical intricacy she demonstrates, like in her famous series, the “Infinity Net” paintings.
This painting is entitled “No. AB”, notice the large scale. Kusama is a small woman. She stood on a ladder with one hand on her hip, making the same mark over and over, that same painted arc again and again and again. If we look up close, we can see how Kusama worked in sections, and if we step back we will notice how these sections pop out. This is a very muted, minimal abstract painting—it has no narrative, nor is it iconographic.
Here is a 1960 painting, entitled “Pacific Ocean”. We can see Kusama’s creative process of using the black dots in a repetitive pattern. In 1957 Kusama flew from Tokyo to Seattle, crossing over the Pacific Ocean. She watched the swells and the crests of the ocean and was inspired to begin a series of paintings that became the “Infinity Nets”.
Kusama is well known for her other work with polka dots and her installation art. The dots become all-encompassing as one becomes lost in the painting. In this gallery we see her early work from the late 1950’s, the beginning of her career in the United States. We see the nets holding the dots, and the emergence of these dots. This room has a peaceful quality to it. In 1973, Kusama returned to her home country of Japan where she continued to create, adding writing to her diverse repertoire.
Kusama never became an American citizen, but she created American art. She said, “New York City made me.” She is an ideal artist to be on display here at the Whitney.