Yayoi Kusama, Corpses, 1950

NARRATOR: Like the earliest painting in this gallery—called Lingering Dream—this work is a kind of abstracted landscape. A low horizon binds the gray earth, while a uniformly atmospheric sky tilts in from above. The painting’s title, Corpses, suggests that we are still facing the aftermath of the war. But the twisting, evolving, rope-like forms don’t literally depict corpses. Instead, they evoke feelings—entanglement, horror, anxiety.

Kusama learned a good deal about art while in Kyoto. But many of the most important developments came while she was alone in her room, skipping class. She taught herself western-style oil painting, and began experimenting with materials and techniques. She also studied magazines intently, hungry for encounters with cubism, surrealism, and other modernist approaches. Corpses is a testament to these efforts. In it, Kusama has married her own visual vocabulary—rich with plant-like growth and decay—to the Surrealist love of eerie, hybrid figures.

Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929), _Corpses_, 1950. Oil on canvas, 24 × 28 5/8 in. (61 × 72.7 cm). Collection of the artist. © Yayoi Kusama. Image courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc.; Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo; Victoria Miro Gallery, London