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b. 1929, Japan

Yayoi Kusama Biography

Sometimes referred to as the 'princess of polka dots', Yayoi Kusama is widely recognised as one of the best-selling female artists 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.

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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 her. 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 she 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, Yayoi 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, the artist'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.

Yayoi Kusama's artwork has often referred to repetition of form as offering her 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 she 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 she created in the 1960s were precursors to her best-known infinity rooms of today.

In 1965, mirrors first appeared in Yayoi Kusama'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. In recent years, the artist's repetitive dot motifs have spawned a set of infinity 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 Mirror. 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 mirror rooms.

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. In 2017, the Yayoi Kusama Museum was founded in Shinjuku Ward and dedicated to her life-long practice, while 2018 marked the release of a Yayoi Kusama documentary, entitled Yayoi Kusama: Infinity. Directed by Heather Lenz, the Yayoi Kusama documentary traces the artist's career, showing her not solely as a product of social media and market success, but an example of perseverance against the odds.

John Hurrell | Ocula | 2019

Exhibition view: Group exhibition, BOLD & VIVID, Whitestone Gallery, Hong Kong (9 July–22 August 2020). Courtesy Whitestone Gallery, Hong Kong.

Yayoi Kusama Featured Artworks

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Nets 24 by Yayoi Kusama contemporary artwork
Yayoi KusamaNets 24, 1997Acrylic on canvas
45.5 x 53 cm
Whitestone Gallery Contact Gallery
Butterflies by Yayoi Kusama contemporary artwork
Yayoi KusamaButterflies, 1989Screenprint on paper
53.4 x 60.8 cm
Gin Huang Gallery Contact Gallery
Ladder To Heaven by Yayoi Kusama contemporary artwork
Yayoi KusamaLadder To Heaven, 2019Steel, LED lights, mirrored glass, honeycomb aluminium, and plastic
391.2 x 149.9 cm
David Zwirner
GARDEN OF WOMEN IN BLOOMING YOUTH by Yayoi Kusama contemporary artwork
Yayoi KusamaGARDEN OF WOMEN IN BLOOMING YOUTH, 2018Acrylic on canvas
194 x 194 cm
Sold
Victoria Miro
SHEDDING TEARS TO THE SEASON by Yayoi Kusama contemporary artwork
Yayoi KusamaSHEDDING TEARS TO THE SEASON, 2015Acrylic on canvas
194 x 194 x 7 cm
Sold
Victoria Miro
DOTS ACPT by Yayoi Kusama contemporary artwork
Yayoi KusamaDOTS ACPT, 2009acrylic on canvas
130.3 x 97 cm
Not for sale
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery
INFINITY-NETS OOAXT by Yayoi Kusama contemporary artwork
Yayoi KusamaINFINITY-NETS OOAXT, 2008acrylic on canvas
130.3 x 130.3 cm
Not for sale
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

Yayoi Kusama Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Group exhibition, BOLD & VIVID at Whitestone Gallery, Hong Kong
Open Now
9 July–22 August 2020 Group exhibition BOLD & VIVID Whitestone GalleryHong Kong
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Miami Online | Online Viewing Room at David Zwirner, New York
Closed
2–8 December 2019 Group Exhibition Miami Online | Online Viewing Room David ZwirnerOnline Only
Contemporary art exhibition, Yayoi Kusama, EVERY DAY I PRAY FOR LOVE at David Zwirner, New York
Closed
9 November–14 December 2019 Yayoi Kusama EVERY DAY I PRAY FOR LOVE David Zwirner20th Street, New York

Yayoi Kusama Represented By

David Zwirner contemporary art gallery in 19th Street, New York, USA David Zwirner New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong
Gin Huang Gallery contemporary art gallery in Taichung City, Taiwan Gin Huang Gallery Taichung City
Victoria Miro contemporary art gallery in Wharf Road, London, United Kingdom Victoria Miro London, Venice
Whitestone Gallery contemporary art gallery in Taipei, Taiwan Whitestone Gallery Taipei, Hong Kong

Yayoi Kusama In Ocula Magazine

View All (8)
The Basquiat Behind Art Dealer Inigo Philbrick's Indictment Ocula News The Basquiat Behind Art Dealer Inigo Philbrick's Indictment New York, 17 July 2020

The wunderkind dealer was denied bail in a New York court this week.

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Galleries Augment Basel Online With Clicks-and-Mortar Exhibitions Ocula News Galleries Augment Basel Online With Clicks-and-Mortar Exhibitions Berlin, 16 June 2020

In Berlin, where the pandemic permits, digital viewing rooms are being remade offline. Elsewhere, galleries are mounting ever richer online presentations.

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Galleries Adjust Presentations for Art Basel Hong Kong's Online Viewing Rooms Ocula News Galleries Adjust Presentations for Art Basel Hong Kong's Online Viewing Rooms Hong Kong, 17 March 2020

Several galleries have chosen to show works they either couldn't have realised in a booth or look just as enticing on a device.

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Daisuke Miyatsu: The Salaryman Collector Ocula Conversation Daisuke Miyatsu: The Salaryman Collector By Rose Lejeune, London

Japanese collector Daisuke Miyatsu has merged his life with a passion for collecting art perhaps more than any other collector today. Known as the 'salaryman collector', Miyatsu started his collecting journey as a surprisingly typical office worker with a limited budget for art, originally working in advertising and supplementing his salary as a...

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Yayoi Kusama In Related Press

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

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 22 June 2018, Hyperallergic

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...

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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 18 June 2018, The New York Times

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...

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

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...

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