Yayoi Kusama, Flowers and Self-Portrait, 1973

NARRATOR: In the lower-right quadrant of Kusama’s Flowers and Self-Portrait, we see a woman’s face. It doesn’t look much like the artist, despite the work’s title. She’s drawn parts of the face—the eyes, the nose, the contours of the profile—in simple ink contours. But the eyebrow is a collaged-on caterpillar. The cheekbone and jaw line are given form by a goldfish. And the hair consists partly of butterflies.

In 1972—a year before Kusama made this collage—the artist Joseph Cornell passed away. Known for his exquisitely odd box collages, Cornell was something of a recluse. But in the early 1960s he and Kusama developed a relationship that she has described as passionately romantic, but platonic. The collage elements in this work–and others she made around the same time—were magazine cutouts and other found materials that Cornell had given to her. In part, these collages are her memorials to him.

At the same time, the modestly scaled works in this room are testaments to Kusama’s changed circumstances. In the late sixties she had begun to focus more on producing happenings, and less on making paintings and sculptures. Her financial situation grew shaky, as did her state of mind. She moved back to Japan in 1973. Her hallucinations returned, and she was hospitalized three times between 1975 and 1977. That year, she voluntarily entered a residential psychiatric hospital in a Tokyo suburb, where she has lived ever since.

Collage with face of woman.

Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929), Flowers and Self-Portrait, 1973. Collage, watercolor, and ink on paper, 20 7/8 × 16 9/16 in. (53 × 42 cm). Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo. © Yayoi Kusama. Image courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc.; Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo; Victoria Miro Gallery, London