Yayoi Kusama, For Walking on the Sea of Death, 1981

NARRATOR: Kusama made this boat sculpture—which is covered in plastic fruit and metallic paint as well as her trademark phalluses—in 1981. In it, she revisits an earlier work.

One day in 1963, Kusama and the sculptor Donald Judd—a good friend, whose studio was upstairs from hers—found a boat lying on the side of the road. They retrieved it, and she covered it in phallic forms. She printed nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine photographs of it, and wallpapered a small room in a gallery with them, floor to ceiling. She called it Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show. Andy Warhol complimented her on the exhibition; three years later he would make his own Cow Wall Paper.

Kusama’s Accumulation sculptures don’t look anything like the Infinity Nets, which she’d made just before this work. But the paintings and the sculpture come out of the same impulse—the feeling that an action or form might overtake the visual field, perhaps even the whole world. That feeling also gave her the idea of making art that would take over a whole room—that would become an environment.