Yayoi Kusama archival material

NARRATOR: Kusama’s work as an artist has been incredibly varied. She has been a painter, sculptor, creator of environments, fashion designer, and orchestrator of happenings. In all media, she’s worked to erode the boundaries between herself, her work, and the wider world. Here, you’ll find photographs that demonstrate how central the artist’s own person is to the work that she created. You’ll also see tickets to performances, manifestos, broadsides advertising her projects, and documentation of the events themselves.

Of all Kusama’s works, her happenings—which she began orchestrating in 1967—depend the most on archival materials like the ones in this gallery. Some of her earliest happenings, the Body Festivals, were multimedia performances. Kusama, illuminated by a black light, would paint fluorescent-colored dots onto the bodies of bikini-clad models. As protests against the Vietnam War intensified the following year, she turned theater into protest, and took these actions to the streets. In the Anatomic Explosions, she again painted the bodies of her performers—who were now usually nude—but did so in front of sites such as New York Stock Exchange and the United Nations Headquarters. After Nixon was elected, she staged a nudist protest in lower Manhattan.

Photo of woman covered in spots.

Kusama at Bust Out Happening at Sheep Meadow in Central Park, 1969. Collection Yayoi Kusama. Image courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc.; Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo; Victoria Miro Gallery, London