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Havana Biennial 2019: Constructing the Possible Ocula Report Havana Biennial 2019: Constructing the Possible 17 Apr 2019 : Federica Bueti for Ocula

I first visited Havana in November 2016, a few days after Fidel Castro died, and just under a year before Hurricane Irma hit Cuba in September 2017. Since then, much has changed, including the hand-painted signs that punctuate the journey from the airport to the city centre, which today do not celebrate the revolution so much as the 'Unidad y...

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Andrew Stahl and Guo Xiaohui Ocula Conversation Andrew Stahl and Guo Xiaohui

The exhibition Beyond Boundaries at Somerset House in London (12 March–2 April 2019) marked the historic contributions of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (CAFA) and the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, on the occasion of their 100th and 150th anniversaries, respectively. Spread across several rooms of Somerset House's...

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The National 2019: New Australian Art Ocula Report The National 2019: New Australian Art 13 Apr 2019 : Elyse Goldfinch for Ocula

The National 2019: New Australian Art features work by 70 contemporary Australia-based artists split across three venues: the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Carriageworks, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) (29 March–21 July 2019), as curated by Isobel Parker Philip, curator of photographs at AGNSW; Daniel Mudie Cunningham,...

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Yayoi Kusama

b. 1929, Japan

Sometimes referred to as the 'princess of polka dots', Yayoi Kusama is widely recognised as one of the best-selling female artist of the 21st century. Her hypnotic, dotty dreamworlds have led to a worldwide museum craze—between 2014 and 2019, more than five million people queued for the artist's exhibitions around the world.

Born into a wealthy but allegedly unhappy family in Matsumoto, Japan, in 1929, Kusama felt discouraged from creating art by her mother and father. As a child, art-making became an act of rebellion for Kusama. Her training as an artist began at Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts, where she studied Nihonga—a form of traditional Japanese painting. However, the artist disagreed with the rigid hierarchy of the genre. In hopes of finding success in the United States, she wrote to painter Georgia O'Keeffe (whose address Kusama had found at the American Embassy in Tokyo) for advice on entering the New York art world. To her surprise, O'Keeffe replied, warning her of the difficulties of working in the city.

In 1958, Kusama found the courage to relocate to New York, where she found herself in the thick of the avantgarde movements of the time. Surrounded by Minimalism and Pop art and incorporating elements of both into her work, Kusama's critical acclaim is pinned to the 'Infinity Net' series (1958-ongoing) that she began at this time: canvases engulfed by hundreds or thousands of small, colourful loops of paint. In 2014, White No 28, which belongs to the series, reached USD7.1 million at Christie's.

Kusama has often referred to repetition of form as offering Kusama solace from the traumas she has battled with since her youth. As a young girl, the artist recalls that her mother would ask her to spy on her father and Kusama has referred to the frequently incorporated phallic forms in her work, as seen in her 'Accumulation' series, begun in 1962, as an act of reconciliation with her childhood fears regarding what she might see. 'Accumulation' comprises soft sculptures made of found furniture covered in sewn, white penis forms. Later, the artist would fill entire rooms with these soft forms—such as Compulsion Furniture (Accumulation) (c 1964): a room filled with phallus-covered furniture. The installations that Kusama created in the 1960s were precursors to her best-known infinity rooms of today. In 1965, mirrors first appeared in the artist's work Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli's Field (1965), in which the floor of a square, mirrored room was covered in a layer of white, stuffed phalluses dotted in red.

A decline in the artist's mental health in the early 1970s saw her return to Japan. In 1977, she checked herself into a psychiatric hospital in Tokyo where she has lived ever since—her studio is located across the road. Her own museum (Yayoi Kusama Museum), dedicated to her life-long practice, was founded in Shinjuku Ward in 2017. In recent years, the artist's repetitive dot motifs have spawned a set of mirror-room exhibitions internationally, including Yayoi Kusama: Infinite Obsession, whose worldwide tour reached the biggest global audience for an art exhibition in 2015. In 2017, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, debuted another touring exhibition titled Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors. Two-hour queueing times did not dampen the enthusiasm of thousands of visitors, who were granted a brief half-minute slot of solitude within the infinity rooms.

2018 marked the UK release of Yayoi Kusama: Infinity, a documentary directed by Heather Lenz that traces the artist's career, showing the artist not solely as a product of social media and market success, but an example of perseverance against the odds.

John Hurrell | Ocula | 2019
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Featured Artworks

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INFINITY NETS [GGF] by Yayoi Kusama contemporary artwork Yayoi KusamaINFINITY NETS [GGF], 2017 Acrylic on canvas
145.5 x 112 cm
Waddington Custot
Early Spring by Yayoi Kusama contemporary artwork Yayoi KusamaEarly Spring, 1983 Enamel varnish and ink on cardboard
27.3 x 24.2 cm
Beck & Eggeling International Fine Art
GARDEN OF WOMEN IN BLOOMING YOUTH by Yayoi Kusama contemporary artwork Yayoi KusamaGARDEN OF WOMEN IN BLOOMING YOUTH, 2018 Acrylic on canvas
194 x 194 cm
Victoria Miro
PUMPKIN [WUTIU] by Yayoi Kusama contemporary artwork Yayoi KusamaPUMPKIN [WUTIU], 2018 Acrylic on canvas
100 x 100 cm
Victoria Miro
Flowers That Bloom Tomorrow L by Yayoi Kusama contemporary artwork Yayoi KusamaFlowers That Bloom Tomorrow L, 2010 Fiberglass reinforced plastic, metal and urethane paint
200 x 340 x 200 cm
Victoria Miro
Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama contemporary artwork Yayoi KusamaPumpkin, 2009 Fiberglass reinforced plastic and paint
100 x 120 x 120 cm
Victoria Miro
SELF-PORTRAIT BELROS by Yayoi Kusama contemporary artwork Yayoi KusamaSELF-PORTRAIT BELROS, 2010 Acrylic on canvas
162 x 130 cm
Victoria Miro

Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, 25 Years of Passion at Beck & Eggeling International Fine Art, Düsseldorf
Open Now
2 April–11 May 2019 Group Exhibition 25 Years of Passion Beck & Eggeling International Fine Art, Düsseldorf
Contemporary art exhibition, Yayoi Kusama, THE MOVING MOMENT WHEN I WENT TO THE UNIVERSE at Victoria Miro, London
Closed
3 October–21 December 2018 Yayoi Kusama THE MOVING MOMENT WHEN I WENT TO THE UNIVERSE Victoria Miro, Wharf Road, London
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Surface Work at Victoria Miro, London
Closed
11 April–19 May 2018 Group Exhibition Surface Work Victoria Miro, Wharf Road, London

Represented By

In Ocula Magazine

In Memory of a Free Public: Harbour Arts Sculpture Park Ocula Report In Memory of a Free Public: Harbour Arts Sculpture Park 16 Mar 2018 : Hera Chan for Ocula

It was at Tamar Park that the initial sit-ins took place around the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, sparking the Umbrella Movement in 2014. Thousands of students advocated for universal suffrage in the response to electoral reforms enacted on Hong Kong by China's Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. It was here, on 26 September...

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Two Exhibitions: Two Collections - Japan Focus Ocula Report Two Exhibitions: Two Collections - Japan Focus 12 Sep 2014 : Annabel James for Ocula

Two private collection shows in Japan this summer revealed radically different ways to present and interpret the role of the contemporary art collector.

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If Pigs Could Fly: A Report From Art Stage Singapore Ocula Report If Pigs Could Fly: A Report From Art Stage Singapore 28 Jan 2014 : Sherman Sam for Ocula

No art fair is complete without an inflatable, in this case a bright pink, flying pig (well actually this one doesn’t fly, but not every one can do a Pink Floyd). This larger-than-life work, Love Me (2013) by Jeong-Hwa Choi at the Vannessa Qwang Gallery, inflates then deflates slightly at a gentle pace, bringing one gallerist to remark...

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In Related Press

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Yayoi Kusama’s Mesmerizing, Meditative Garden Related Press Yayoi Kusama’s Mesmerizing, Meditative Garden Hyperallergic : 13 July 2018

My most recent visit to the Rockaways was to experience Yayoi Kusama’s magnificent Narcissus Garden (1966–present) in a still intact if ramshackle former train repair facility, dating to the time when Fort Tilden, now part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, was still an active military installation. Kusama, now 89 years old and one of the...

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1,500 Yayoi Kusama Mirror Balls Beckon Beachgoers to the Rockaways Related Press 1,500 Yayoi Kusama Mirror Balls Beckon Beachgoers to the Rockaways Hyperallergic : 22 June 2018

First presented by the artist as an unofficial project outside the Italian pavilion at the 1966 Venice Biennale, Narcissus Garden (1966) consists of 1,500 reflective orbs spread throughout a space. In the work's first iteration, Kusama wore a golden kimono or red onesie and stood amid the plastic orbs alongside signs that read 'Narcissus Garden,'...

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Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Narcissus Garden’ Is Coming to the Rockaways Related Press Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Narcissus Garden’ Is Coming to the Rockaways The New York Times : 18 June 2018

Art lovers and Instagram fanatics will both have a good reason to head to the Rockaways this summer: Yayoi Kusama's shimmering Narcissus Garden will be installed there starting July 1.The work is made up of 1,500 mirrored stainless steel spheres placed in the imposing confines of Fort Tilden, a former Army base on the beach in Queens. The spheres...

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An alternative history of abstract art Related Press An alternative history of abstract art Apollo Magazine : 25 May 2018

Surface Work, a survey show of women abstract artists across Victoria Miro’s Mayfair and Wharf Road galleries, reveals an alternative history of how much women have already achieved.From the examples of the more than 50 artists in this show–some relatively unknown and others household names–it is obvious that women approached abstraction with just...

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